It took me some years before I started to learn to like, and even love, country music. Sometimes a Johnny Cash song would break through my New Wave, but in general I just didn’t “get it”.
My problem was this: I wasn’t listening to any of the old stuff. Then, towards the end of college, someone slipped me a live CD of Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. Wow. That Texas Swing was some truly ass-kicking music, and started to figure out that the best stuff was the old stuff.
So I started putting an ear out. While I’m not a country afficianado, I know there’s plenty of good music I just need to come across to love.
Which is why I was pleased to see, on BBC, a 4-part series called “Lost Highway: The History of Country Music.” Very nicely produced, and in-depth. The last episode I saw, “Sweethearts of the Rodeo”, focused on women in country, from Jean Shepard and Patsy Cline, through Loretta Lynn (whose last record, by the way, produced by Jack White, is utterly stunning) and Dolly Parton, and up to Shania Twain and kd lang.
But the real find there, for me, was Gillian Welch.
With guitarist David Rawlings, Welch has re-drawn the approach to traditional music, writing and performing songs that are at once sparse, haunting and seemingly part of the vein that goes back to the Appalachians.
I suppose that’s all true, but the fact is, it’s just amazing, melancholy music. Check out, for instance, the song “Time (The Revelator)”. It’s simple and slow, but with a hook that stays with you for days: The days are getting straighter; Time’s the revelator.
A couple years ago, even the New Yorker was taken by her. That’s all fine and good, but in the documentary I watched Loretta Lynn stumped for words to describe the respect she has for Gillian Welch’s music. That was enough for me, and it should be enough for you.