Gillian Welch and David Rawlings: All the Good Times review – lockdown covers of Dylan and Prine

(Acony Records)
The pandemic hangs heavy in the long-term duo’s first album to share joint billing, and thrives when Welch leads

Incredibly, Gillian Welch once played bass in a college goth band. But after an epiphany hearing bluegrass duo the Stanley Brothers, her music and image have been steeped in a nostalgic strain of Americana, from her rough-hewn 1996 debut Revival to this collection of reel-to-reel-recorded covers with Dave Rawlings, her long-term musical partner. Initially released on a short run of CDs after their Nashville studio was destroyed by a tornado at the start of lockdown, this release is the first to bear both their names.

All the Good Times cover art
All the Good Times cover art Photograph: Publicity image

It’s an odd collection. Initially, the languorous intensity of these 10 songs is overwhelming, the couple’s harmonies fusing together into a consistent, glowing sound. This approach often wraps these songs up in an obfuscating gauze, however. Poor Ellen Smith, the tale of a woman shot through the heart, sounds glossily stoned. Their take on Elizabeth Cotten’s Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie, which wishes death on an old woman, loses the original’s quicksilver darkness. The Rawlings-led Bob Dylan covers (Señor, Abandoned Love) veer dangerously towards the work of an impressionist. When Welch leads, the album breathes.

A cover of John Prine’s Hello in There, led by her, is enormously moving, a song about ageing and loneliness by the musician who died last April, at 73, of Covid-19. “All the news just repeats itself,” Welch sings tenderly, “like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen.” The pandemic hangs heavy throughout, but dark humour lurks behind the bluegrass title track and on country closer Y’all Come, encouraging neighbours to pop by when they can. You sense tough times have made this pair retreat into a comfortable, comforting place, but they’re better stretching at their seams.

Also out this month

Vedan Kolod’s Gorodische (Bandcamp) is a full-throated set of Russian and Siberian traditionals, Tatiana and Valery Naryshkin’s voices raging like storms against the hurdy gurdy and the gudok. Jon Wilks’s Up the Cut (self-released) explores the fascinating history of Birmingham street balladry, a thriving 19th-century industry, through simple, deeply affecting voice-and-guitar settings. The Lover’s Ghost and Stowaway are especially beautiful, delicate with love and loss. Patterson Dipper’s Unearthing (self-released) is another ambitious, affecting project, reshaping English classical songs into the folk idiom. Patterson’s voice has the solid, sensual heft of Nic Jones or Dick Gaughan, while Dipper’s viola d’amore has texture, grit and grace.


Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Gillian Welch/David Rawlings, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Shepherds Bush Empire, London

Adam Sweeting

02, Aug, 2004 @9:42 AM

Article image
Alula Down: Postcards from Godley Moor review | Jude Rogers's folk album of the month
Kate Gathercole and Mark Waters mark the shape-shifting effects of Covid in rural Britain, mixing traditional music with post-rock and ambience

Jude Rogers

14, Aug, 2020 @7:30 AM

Gillian Welch/ David Rawlings, Barbican, London

Barbican, London

Adam Sweeting

09, Dec, 2002 @2:28 AM

Article image
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings review – a dark, masterful journey through American history
The Nashville-based duo’s sparse, harrowing country music may have a high bodycount, but their real talent is bringing their characters to life

Martin Farrer

09, Feb, 2016 @12:49 AM

Article image
Ben McElroy: How I Learned to Disengage From the Pack review | Jude Rogers's folk album of the month
A shivering seabed of sound, haunted by barely there vocals and stitched together with lo-fi production – McElroy has made a beautiful early year listen

Jude Rogers

14, Jan, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Sam Lee: Old Wow review – Britain's nature crisis in gnarly song
Lee’s twee-free third album, produced by Bernard Butler and featuring Liz Fraser, is a stark reminder of this country’s environmental concerns

Jude Rogers

31, Jan, 2020 @8:30 AM

Article image
Gwenifer Raymond: Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain review | Jude Rogers's folk album of the month
Raymond’s accomplished guitar playing, inspired on her second album by her Welsh upbringing, makes for horror-tinged blues full of atmosphere

Jude Rogers

06, Nov, 2020 @8:30 AM

Article image
House and Land: Across the Field review – a magical recasting of music history
Electronic experimentalism duels with classic banjo sounds for this ambient, affecting new twist on American folk music

Jude Rogers

28, Jun, 2019 @9:00 AM

Article image
Oki: Tonkori in the Moonlight review – joyous celebration of a dying art form
The Ainu maestro curates a collection that gives his people’s endangered ancient sound a modern lease of life – with dub, harmony and dazzling percussion

Jude Rogers

11, Feb, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Burd Ellen: Says the Never Beyond review | Jude Rogers's folk album of the month
Debbie Armour and Gayle Brogan harmonise beautifully and add unnerving sounds to British seasonal songs

Jude Rogers

04, Dec, 2020 @8:30 AM