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Song of the day: Gillian Welch’s “Annabelle” from her 1996 album Revival.

(Gillian Welch)

We lease twenty acres and one Ginny mule
From the Alabama trust
For half of the cotton and a third of the corn
We get a handful of dust

We cannot have all the things to please us
No matter how we try
Until we’ve all gone to jesus
We can only wonder why

I had a daughter called her Annabelle
She’s the apple of my eye
Tried to give her something like I never had
Didn’t want to ever hear her cry


When I’m dead and buried
I’ll take a hard life of tears
From every day I’ve ever known
Anna’s in the churchyard she got no life at all
She only got these words on a stone


I’m continually amazed by Gillian Welch’s ability to so accurately capture the voice of those older folk songs. It’s not unlike Emmylou Harris’s work on something like Roses in the Snow—but then, Emmylou didn’t write any of those songs. With Welch, you don’t get the sense that these songs are being remade or updated, or that they’re part of some neo-folk revival. With Welch, I constantly have to remind myself that these aren’t Library of Congress recordings made during the depression, when they sent individuals out all over the country to record people playing folk music. (Sorry, I can’t find a link to the actual recordings)

A while back, one of my jobs in my department was to look through our collections of these recordings and see if any might be useful for the courses we were teaching at the time. I sat in the floor for several days making lists of songs to convert to MP3, listening to this music and making notes to myself. It’s important to note that many of these recordings were made on front porches with portable recording equipment.

On these albums, I found lots–and I mean lots–of music made by chain gangs. Some of it at revivals. Some of it from concerts. Some of it from around my home town.

When I was first leaning how to play, I desperately wanted to play this kind of music. It was all around me. Everyone around me seemed to come into the world with a tremendous catalogue of American folk music that I, quite simply, didn’t have. Nor do I now. I learned a long time ago that the balladâ??the song that tells a storyâ??is beyond me. My musical brain simply doesn’t work that way, and so I fall into either the confessional singer-songwriter camp or the strangely-tuned instrumental piece (a la Michael Hedges).

But I think I’m going to do some studying. I’ve been immersing myself in the folk movement latelyâ??and I distinguish it from the singer-songwriter movement that’s enjoyed a renaissance just recentlyâ??and I’m getting ready to churn out some new songs for another album.

Maybe they will be good ones.


Written by srogers

July 2, 2011 at 2:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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