Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Trying Too Hard, Gillian Welch and The Weight

It's hard to believe it's been its been six years since Gillian Welch's last album Soul Journey and a full decade since Time (The Revelator), a stunning album whose title track I still enjoy butchering, er covering. I've only partially listened to The Harrow and the Harvest, but I think I'm going to like it.

The six-year span between recordings is long, but not uncommon. Welch said in an NPR interview that it wasn't actually "writer's block," but that she and her writing partner Dave Rawlings were just trying too hard. They had reams of songs written, they just didn't like them.  I think there's an interesting lesson in there somewhere. I believe it's best to try and write as often as you can. But when it stops being fun, you know you're trying too hard. Take a break or wait for a relaxing evening to kick back and jam with a friend. Having someone to bounce ideas off of, who you don't have to bounce those ideas, is really invaluable. In that vein, I have a few half finished songs that drove me nuts until I just gave up. I might even post them here soon for some some commentary, suggestions or ridicule.

I'm just glad Gillian is back. For any fans of OCMS, the video below shows Gillian and Dave in London a couple of years ago doing one of the best versions of the Band's "The Weight" I have ever heard.  Never a huge hit in it's time, the song, for which Robbie Roberston had the writing credit, tells a story steeped in Americana while at the same time being almost surreal.  More or less, it's about a guy with a friend named Annie who stops in the town of Nazareth to say hi to all her eccentric friends.  I'm not sure anyone knows where the chorus line "Take a load off Fannie" came from.  In liner notes to a box set, Robertson said he chose the town Nazareth because Martin guitars are made there.   I just thought it sounded biblical and had the right number of syllables.

The basic I-III-IV chord progression made The Weight a staple in the body of songs most beginning guitarists learn.  But it is a difficult song to pull off because the chorus utterly depends on the three part harmony which, because the Band featured three lead singers (Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, and Levon Helm), they did extraordinarily well.  I think Gillian, Dave and OCMS do a pretty fine job too.

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