Jump to Content

Welcome! You’re browsing the No Depression Archives

No Depression has been the foremost journalistic authority on roots music for well over a decade, publishing 75 issues from 1995 to 2008. No Depression ceased publishing magazines in 2008 and took to the web. We have made the contents of those issues accessible online via this extensive archive and also feature a robust community website with blogs, photos, videos, music, news, discussion and more.

Close This

Waxed - Record Review from Issue #17 Sept-Oct 1998

Gillian Welch

Hell Among The Yearlings (Almo)

In a recent concert, Gillian Welch wryly noted that a fan had brought to her attention a fact about herself she had never considered. Namely, that as a writer she has two great themes: flowers and death. If pressed for two words to describe Welch’s latest offering, Hell Among The Yearlings, you could do worse than to say “no flowers.”

The album-opening “Caleb Meyer” tells the graphic tale of a would-be rapist slain by his intended victim. Shortly thereafter, “One Morning” etches the indelible image of a wayward son returning home, dead and bloody and still astride his mount. Like many an Appalachian song, and the English and Scottish ballads that inspired them, Welch’s grisly new tales have a dreamlike quality, a paradoxical lightness that transforms their horrific subject matter into bewitching surreality.

The secret to this alchemy seems to be that Welch has learned the rudiments of clawhammer banjo and begun composing in the style. More fluid and lyrical, less staccato than the finger-picked bluegrass approach to banjo, the older clawhammer style readily yields a baleful, primitive sound more blues than bluegrass, as any Doc Boggs fan can attest. On “The Devil Had A Hold Of Me”, Welch captures the childlike simplicity and deep tragic sense that are inseparable, indeed, one and the same, in this style.

So, yes, Gillian Welch and partner David Rawlings are still in their “revival” mode. Indeed, Yearlings distances itself far more from the modern pop idiom than their Grammy-nominated debut, Revival. Similarly, the pared-down, largely duo performances (two guitars or guitar and banjo) and “live” production style give Yearlings a much less polished, more immediate feel.

But all is not death and destruction. There’s also dissolution. In fact, this topic seems to have an unnatural appeal to the rather fresh-faced Welch and Rawlings. Borrowing the narcotic languor of the Revival track “Paper Wings”, the duo sing a song of failed romance between a user and his chemical paramour, “Morphine”. The song all but floats on opiate wings while Welch and Rawlings unfurl a blissed-out yodel. “Whiskey Girl” likewise lists toward a euphoric underworld of temporary charms.

But it’s on “Good Til Now” that they fully realize their delirious intentions. With Rawlings’ pianistic guitar lending its usual, quietly breathtaking palette of color, Welch sings in a diaphanous drawl of the lure of dissolution and one man’s final surrender thereto: “Good-bye darlin’/I been good ’til now.” When Rawlings adds his vocal harmony in the third verse, you realize how peculiar his identity is in this duo. So seamlessly joined, so sympathetic in spirit are Rawlings’ harmonies that they’ve become both definitive and invisible.

With Hell Among The Yearlings, Welch and Rawlings have asked a bit more of their newfound fans. They’ve dug deeper into the past and found there an idiom peculiarly suited to a darker vision than modern pop forms are given to. It’s a vision Greil Marcus writes of as belonging to “the old, weird America.” Funny how true it feels to the new, weirder America that rolls around each day.

Enjoy the ND archives? Consider making a donation with PayPal or send a check to:
No Depression, 460 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94108

Discuss

Did you enjoy this article? Start a discussion about it, or find out what others are saying in the No Depression Community forum.

Join the Discussion »

Find out what's going on in roots music. Share concert photos and videos, learn about new artists, blog about the music you love.

Join the No Depression Community »

Originally Featured in Issue #17 Sept-Oct 1998

Cover of Issue #17 Sept-Oct 1998

Sorry, this issue is SOLD OUT

Buy our history before it’s gone!

Each issue is artfully designed and packed full of great photos that you don‘t get online. Visit the No Depression store to own a piece of history.

Visit the No Depression Store »


From the Blogs

  • Willie Sugarcapps and The Mulligan Brothers Together for the First Time at Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm
    April 20, 2014 was the last Sunday Social in the third season at The Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm in Silverhill, Alabama. If the season had to end, Cathe Steele closed it out the right way with The Mulligan Brothers and Willie Sugarcapps playing together for the first time.  It was a… […]
  • Neil Young Surprises Fans and Sends A Letter Home
    "It's better to burn out than to fade away," Neil Young so memorably sang in his "Hey Hey, My, My (Into the Black)," the song that famously provides the counterpart to his "My, My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)" on his Rust Never Sleeps album (1979). Well, Young himself will neither burn out nor fade away nor rust nor sleep. Th […]
  • John Nemeth - Memphis Grease (Album Review)
    You could have just as well called John Nemeth's latest release Soul from Spudsville. No matter what the location, everything the Boise, Idaho native touches turns to soul. This one he calls Memphis Grease because it was recorded there in his new adopted homebase, slathered with boilin' Memphis guitar and punched up with Stax style fatback horns, b […]
  • Dan Amor - Rainhill Trials (Album Review)
    Subtle and Sweet folk music from Wales              Most people reading this review will probably be of an age where they have pretty defined music tastes and don’t have the time or inclination to readily discover anything too radically new. I too am a bit like that; but as a music reviewer I can still discover new genres that can spin my preconceptions 359 […]
  • Jimbo Mathus on Americana Music Show #188
    On episode 188 of the Americana Music Show, Jimbo Mathus plays tracks from Dark Night Of The Soul, talks about going from "sepia tones to ultrachrome" and the "crazy Mississippi white boy chain."  Also in this episode, indie rock from Bobby Bare Jr., heartland rock from Jonny Two Bags, country rock from Rodney Crowell, road tripo music fr […]
  • The War on Drugs: From Dylan to Dire Straits, By Way of Attrition
    Whether on the basketball court or onstage, when two supreme talents join forces, it tends to make things better. Michael Jordan needed Scottie Pippen, LeBron James needs Dwyane Wade, McCartney clearly needed Lennon, and Salt would be a run-of-the mill condiment without Pepa. But there are exceptions to such… […]

Shop Amazon by clicking through this logo to support NoDepression.com. We get a percentage of every purchase you make!


Subscribe To the No Depression Newsletter

Subscribe to the No Depression Newsletter