GILLIAN WELCH SHARES VIDEO FOR “DRY TOWN (DEMO)” VIA NPR MUSIC BOOTS NO. 1: THE OFFICIAL REVIVAL
BOOTLEG OUT NOW ON ACONY RECORDS
“Gillian Welch is one of the greatest songwriters on Earth. I’ve spent countless hours poring over the songs on Revival, and they still transport me to another place and time while somehow feeling current and relevant on a personal level. I’m a huge fan. Very happy to see these outtakes and rarities see the light.”–Jason Isbell
Critical Acclaim for Welch’s Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg
“Welch’s spectral country music has always felt otherworldly in its ability to evoke feelings, memories and atmosphere on command.” –Pitchfork
“This collection of outtakes and demos shows it is possible to add to perfection… Rarely have songs so entrancing remained in the archives.” -MOJO (★★★★★)
Gillian Welch shared her video for “Dry Town (Demo)” this morning on NPR Music, who called it “playful and sweetly captivating.” You can watch it here. The video brings Welch’s song about being stuck in a town with “no beer, no liquor for miles around,” to life with stop motion animation and anthropomorphized beer bottles and shot glasses. The music video was produced by Rachel Blumberg, an artist and former drummer for The Decemberists, Bright Eyes and M Ward, who said of working on the video: “The lyrics have a great visual quality and rhythm and it made sense to interpret things in a very literal way, which I think adds to the humor of the piece.” Gillian Welch worked with close friend Blumberg to create the video, and said on the inspiration for it, “Dry Town came from a live experience I had on a road trip when I was just out of college. David and I wrote the song shortly after moving to Nashville, after a show where we opened for Johnny Cash. We were so inspired to meet Johnny and see him in the flesh that we wanted to capture some of that narrative swagger and humor in a song of our own. Since the story is front and center, it seemed like a great chance to bring the song to life with stop motion animation. I’m more of a car person than Rachel, so I found the ’71 Buick with the vinyl top, other than that she created every inch of the fantastic world you see.”
Watch the Video for “Dry Town (Demo)” on NPR Music: http://n.pr/2k3QwCC
“Dry Town (Demo)” is off Welch’s Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg which was released on November 25, 2016 on Acony Records. NPR Music initially premiered the song via Songs We Love, praising it as a “wry, Johnny Cash-like talking-blues.” Boots No. 1, which commemorates the 20th anniversary of Welch’s groundbreaking album, Revival, provides an intimate look at the earliest works of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, “before they emerged as leading lights in an ascendant Americana scene,” and is “a tremendous reminder of how and why this partnership came to matter so much.” (NPR Music) Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg is out now on Acony Records, and is available on CD and digitally here.
Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg was personally curated and produced by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, who worked alongside archivist Glen Chausse to mine selections from their extensive vault of analog tape recordings. The two-disc set features 8 previously unreleased songs, and includes 21 outtakes, alternate versions, and demos from the making of the album, such as the earliest home demo of “Orphan Girl” which was recorded on a four-track and the rarity “Georgia Road,” a song that was only performed live once.
Of the album, Gillian Welch says, “I’m happy that the songs hold up. That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of. There is that interesting moment in any writer’s first batch of songs or any writer’s first novel or anything, a filmmaker’s first movie that always seems to have something that is different from what comes after. Something happens in that first push. Maybe because you’re usually up against more resistance. But there is a purity or a diamond hardness to the first batch that doesn’t seem to happen again. And so Revival has that when I look at it. Maybe it’s lack of ego. You know, there really was no me. You know, the artist Gillian Welch didn’t really exist. And then after that, I did.”
Revival was Grammy-nominated and was highly praised by critics worldwide including The Los Angeles Times who claimed, “…At every turn she demonstrates a spark and commitment that should endear her to anyone, from country and folk to adult pop and rock fan, who appreciates imagination and heart,” Paste Magazine who named Revival the 3rd “Best Alt Country Album of All Time,” and Entertainment Weekly who praised, “…winsomely authentic…[Revival] gets an early lead on debut-of-the-year honors.”
On the influence Revival and Gillian Welch had on him, Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers adds, “I was 13 years old when Gillian Welch won a songwriting contest at Merlefest with the song ‘Orphan Girl.’ Shortly after, when Revival was released, I remember feeling like she and the festival were one and the same…like she and the environment around her were the past and the future of music, and unbelievably, they were right down the road from me in my home state of North Carolina. She and Dave Rawlings contributed mightily to a whole new understanding of what and how a song could be. The simplicity, finesse and timelessness of their work was inspiring beyond measure. The music of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings was magic for me then and it is magic for me now.”
Gillian Welch and musical partner Dave Rawlings have recorded 7 studio albums and have lent their talents to countless fellow artists’ recordings. In recognition of their remarkable career, Welch and Rawlings were honored with the Americana Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting in 2015 and the Berklee American Masters Award last year.
BOOTS NO. 1: THE OFFICIAL REVIVAL BOOTLEG TRACK LIST:
- Orphan Girl (Alternate Version)
- Annabelle (Alternate Version)
- Pass You By (Alternate Version)
- Go On Downtown (Revival Outtake) *
- Red Clay Halo (Revival Outtake)
- By The Mark (Alternate Mix)
- Paper Wings (Demo)
- Georgia Road (Revival Outtake) *
- Tear My Stillhouse Down (Home Demo)
- Only One and Only (Alternate Version)
1. Orphan Girl (Home Demo)
- I Don’t Want to Go Downtown (Revival Outtake) *
- 455 Rocket (Revival Outtake) *
- Barroom Girls (Live Radio)
- Wichita (Revival Outtake) *
- One More Dollar (Alternate Version)
- Dry Town (Demo) *
- Paper Wings (Alternate Mix)
- Riverboat Song (Revival Outtake) *
- Old Time Religion (Revival Outtake) *
- Acony Bell (Demo)
Not to get too meta about it, but the time was never more ripe for a Revival revival than on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Gillian Welch’s debut album, which helped launch not just her career but an entire musical movement. Revival, produced by T Bone Burnett and originally released in 1996 on the Almo Sounds label, was and remains one of the flagship albums of the contemporary roots revolution that came to be dubbed Americana, proving just how detailed and rich austerity can sound. Twenty years later, this landmark is being celebrated with Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg, a double-disc collection of outtakes that would make for a fine Gillian Welch release in its own right, even if the mother album had never existed.
These aren’t just demos or alternate takes of the familiar material from Revival, although there is certainly some of that. Among the 21 tracks are eight songs that Welch never ultimately put down on that or any other record, including “Dry Town,” a longtime live fan favorite that Miranda Lambert and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band got around to including on an album before Welch ever did. Also included are separate demo and outtake versions of the song that put her on the map — “Orphan Girl,” recorded by Emmylou Harris just prior to Revival, in a cover so compelling that it whetted music aficionados’ appetite for Welch just on the basis of a songwriting credit alone.
“Listening to these outtakes again, I see why it wasn’t the for-all-time snapshot of the song, but really, they all have something to recommend them,” Welch says. “Think how beautiful and precious your family snapshots are when you just have, like, four. And it’s your mom trying to fish something out of the trunk of your old car, and suddenly, at a couple-decade remove, it’s perfect. All it was was a stupid, misfired snapshot of her taking groceries out of the trunk, but it seems to capture everything you remember about your mother. The hope is that this archival project will have some of that.”
You can find whatever layers of irony you like in the fact that some of us are experiencing a nostalgia for the era that brought us Revival, when that album evoked a wistfulness for a far more distant time, when acoustic brother-act giants still walked the earth and novelistic murder ballads were a viable commercial subgenre. But time (revelator that it is) has always been a funny thing in Welch’s world. Songs that seem to be set long ago in a dust-bowl galaxy far, far away might actually take place in the present, even if her old-time recording rigs or careful use of occasionally archaic language suggest a trip back in time. Gillian Welch music exists fairly outside of time… which doesn’t mean she fails to keep an eye on the calendar.
The 20th anniversary of Revival gave her and musical partner Dave Rawlings the excuse or deadline they needed to hunker down and focus on their first real retrospective project.
“When you tape all your shows and save your tapes and you keep all this stuff — basically, when you compile an archive — the assumption is that, at some point in the future, you’ll start to go through it and see if there’s anything of value or at least of interest,” says Welch. “So we kept waiting and wondering when that day would come that we would be able to bring ourselves to start going through this pretty extensive vault. And the real lynchpin of this project, the whole reason this happened, is because we found this guy Glen Chausse,” she adds, referring to their now-official archivist. Chausse has been a friend of Rawlings’ since they were growing up in the same small Rhode Island town, and it was Chausse who convinced his pal to pick up a guitar so they could play Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” in a high school talent contest. All these decades later, he was the man most responsible for making Bootleg more than a whim. “Glen is a man of impeccable taste. If he said, ‘Man, this is great!,’ we trust him. And we had the added impetus of this 20-year mark for Revival. Those two things combined are why we finally actually did it.”
There was a lot of material for Welch, Rawlings, and Chausse to wade through. In the end, there are 19 distinct songs among Bootleg’s 21 tracks, with only “Orphan Girl” and “Paper Wings” appearing in two versions apiece. “We probably came into that session with about 35 songs, for a 10-song record,” Welch recalls. “And it was an interesting process, because of the way T Bone Burnett and Rik Pekkonen (the mixing engineer) had decided to work, Rik was a proper, old-school-enough engineer that he was live-mixing stuff to mono tape, while we performed, just as if it was 1958,” she laughs. “So we didn’t have to go back in and do that terrible thing where you attempt to deal with raw tracks and mix them 20 years after the fact. Everything was mixed.”
Everything was mixed from the T Bone Burnett sessions, that is. Not everything from that era was quite so ready for prime time. “The cassette home demos were probably the diciest,” she says. “Twenty-plus-year-old cassette tapes! But, you know, tape is a marvel.”
If you know anything about Gillian Welch, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that her love of tape runs across the board, and that she is no enthusiast of digital.
“If you snapped your fingers and there was no more tape, it would be really hard for me to make records,” she says. “I don’t want to make records that way, at all. I’ve done it. Every now and again you’ll be asked to do a one-off for a tribute project or something, where you go in sing on someone else’s thing, and they’re working digital. But tape changes stuff. And that never happens on the digital. You don’t get that weird thing where suddenly it goes from a recording to art. It’s that same thing that film does. Film is not reality. Tape is not reality. Tape is paint. It’s an altered reality. It’s a beautifully altered reality, just as film is. That is not the way the world looks. The same thing with tape: That is not the way the world sounds. But it’s so beautiful. So, I don’t know how to work digitally. I suppose I could learn, but I have no desire to. Our entire process is built around the bravery and the brashness of tape, where you do not get to save everything. If you want to edit, you are slicing up your master. You’re destroying it to create something you are gambling is going to be better. And knowing that makes you tough, makes you sharp, makes you very opinionated. These are all good things when you’re an artist.”
She has her favorites among the altered-reality moments found on this Bootleg.
“I’m smiling right now as I even think about the early demo of ‘Dry Town,’ and no bones about it, it’s a pretty damn good song. It’s funny, the rhymes are really good, and it’s a good story. And then we did it with a great musician that we just loved who passed away right as we were starting to make our second record, Roy Huskey Jr., who was a really famous upright bass player here in Nashville. The fact that he’s on this demo is partly why it’s very near and dear to our hearts. He takes a really rippin’ bass solo. He was such a humble dude, it was hard to get him to step out, but we managed to get him to take the solo on it, so it’s a little treasure.
“This whole thing is riddled with really, really early moments. These are the first couple days that Dave ever played his little Archtop guitar. He had just gotten it and strung it up. It was also true on Revival, but some of these things in this new Bootleg release are less polished and more exploratory, and he was really goofing around and experimenting with ‘Wow, what does this do?,’ because he had only played a flattop prior to that. I really love that, and it kind of blows my mind that the first few hours of Dave translating the guitar player that he had been before onto that Archtop are there on tape.
“And while I see why the version of ‘Annabelle’ that is on Revival is the master, this earlier version has such beautiful things. Because it’s an earlier take, I can tell that my connection to the story is just a tiny bit crisper. I’m really in the narrative, and it’s a tiny bit more immediate. And you can hear Dave searching for what to play to amplify the emotional color. It’s a little freer, and it goes a little sideways. His solo is a little brasher, a little bolder, and kind of goes outside of the idiom.
Performance nuances aside, Welch says, “I’m happy that the songs hold up. That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of. You know, there is that interesting moment in any writer’s first batch of songs — or any writer’s first novel or a filmmaker’s first movie — that always seems to have something that is different from what comes after. Something happens in that first push, maybe because you’re usually up against more resistance. But there is a purity or a diamond hardness to the first batch that doesn’t seem to happen again. And so Revival has that when I look at it. Maybe it’s lack of ego. You know, there really was no me,” she laughs. “The artist Gillian Welch didn’t really exist. And then after that, I did.
“Nobody was really looking at us when we made that stuff. Everything in the very beginning was about trying to get attention, not dealing with attention. And that seems to be a difference that affects artists profoundly. Everything kind of changed after that in some way. So I’m not sure that the first stuff is better, but it does have a quality that I look at now and am able to say, ‘Wow, we were doing good work.’”
And that capacity for slightly begrudging self-appreciation is opening the archival floodgates. The No. 1 appended to the Bootleg in this album title? It’s not just there for show. “We already know what the next one’s going to be,” Welch says. After we’ve fully absorbed the double-album of entirety of this one, get ready for another Welch/Rawlings revival meeting.