When they come to write the social history of 2020, perhaps the only folk with fond memories of the year will be fans of Gillian Welch. Previously quite spare with her recordings (five albums in 15 years), 2020 saw, first, a covers album, ‘All the Good Times’, and then, in rapid succession, three volumes titled, ‘The Lost Songs’, recorded by her and David Rawlings over one weekend in 2002. These recordings, 48 songs in all, lay unheard until they had to be rescued when a tornado hit the pair’s recording studio in Nashville. The three volumes were released digitally between August and November but it’s now been announced that there will be a limited physical release via Acony Records, Welch’s bespoke record label.
For those who haven’t heard the three volumes, it’s safe to say that there’s a wealth of treasure to be discovered within. Apparently the songs were recorded in order to allow Welch to fulfil (and escape) an old publishing contract signed years earlier. As such, notebooks were pored over and any useful snippets turned into short songs. However, there’s no sense of urgency nor anything slapdash here. Welch, despite a city upbringing, knew folk traditions inside out and she and Rawlings amaze throughout. The pair can mine the darkest seams of Appalachia, swing with a rockabilly vengeance or turn in beautifully crepuscular performances with ease.
Of the 48 songs, all are quite magnificent in their own way. Standouts currently are the seductive slow swing of ‘Apalachicola’ and the banjo led holler of ‘Lil Luli’ (Vol. 1), the classic folk traditions of ‘Rambling Blade’ and the lonesome story of ‘Papa Writes To Johnny’ (Vol.2) and then the Dylan like roustabout of ‘Sin City’ and, finally the glorious harmonies and hushed atmosphere of ‘Cowboy Rides Away’ (Vol. 3). However, these are but a snapshot of the delights which spill out song by song. Welch is centre stage but Rawlings astounds time and time again with his guitar dexterity and by the end of listening, one is quite amazed that these intimate and perfectly executed songs were “knocked off” so quickly and astounded that they then gathered dust for almost 20 years.
The box set will be available on vinyl and CD with a 66-page songbook with photos, lyrics, and guitar chords for all 48 tracks. You can pre-order the set via the Acony Records website.