Between the Covers: Gillian Welch Covers Lefty Frisell, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan and the Band

I'm gonna go see Gillian Welch soon so I thought I'd play you a few covers.
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In about a week I'm going to see Gillian Welch live and in concert. She's been on my list of folks to see before I die for a long times so I'm super stoked about finally getting there. I actually almost saw her a few years back, but due to some random and strange occurrence I missed them. The way it went down was this: Gillian was opening for Bright Eyes at the Ryman auditorium and so as soon as they went on sale I bought tickets. Then a couple of weeks later I saw that a whole bunch of folks were playing at benefit for a radio show in Louisville, Kentucky. Folks like Charlie Louvin, Suzanne Vega, Paula Cole, and Ryan Adams (who was right at the very top of my list at the time.) Tickets were cheap too. So I snatched them up only to later realize that the Gillian show was on the same date. Long debates took place but in the end we decided on Louisville and Ryan. So Gillian had to sit it out.

Gillian Welch and David RawlinsIt was a decision I have regretted ever since.

Mr. Adams had broken his arm a few nights before so he was unable to play guitar. The lights were pulled down really low so you could barely see anything at all on the stage. Ryan was apparently wearing a shower cap as well which meant he was in one of his moods. Sure enough after complaining a couple of times about the sound he left the stage for good after about five songs. This was their acoustic tour too, which meant for those five songs they sounded astonishingly good, and bootlegs of the rest of the tour are some of the best he's ever played. But that's the way it goes. That weekend turned out to be one of the worst times of my life for a variety of other personal reasons I won't get into, but the end result is that I can't help but think I should have chosen to see Gillian Welch. Nothing could have possibly gone wrong by seeing her. Could it?

Ah, but now I'm making everything right again. All shall be bliss once I see Gillian and her partner David Rawlings picking and a singing together. So for today's Between the Cover's I thought I'd pick a few choice covers that Gillian and Dave have played together over the years.

"Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor"
From the album Soul Journey
Original by unknown

Gillian and Dave write music older than they are. It comes from the hills and the cotton fields, the hollers and the stills. Its the music your grandpappy sang who learned it from his. Its no surprise then that when they choose to sing a cover its often something really old. "Make Me A Pallet on Your Floor" can be traced back to the 19th century but no ones for sure who wrote it or exactly when it came about. Gillian says she learned it from Doc Watson but its been covered from everyone from Jelly Roll Morton to Lucinda Williams.

Like a lot of old songs this ones full of sorry and weariness. The singer is broke and homeless, her friends have all left her now that the money's gone and she just needs a place to lay her head for a night, but can find no solace. Gillian sings it like a dirge, though the prettiest dirge I've ever heard. Her voice is full of hurt and exhaustion while the guitar plays soft and straight and serves as the pallet that holds the song together. Gorgeous, just gorgeous.

"Long Black Veil"
From the bootleg "Travellin' Companion, Vol. 4"
Original by Lefty Frisell

This was written in the fifties but sounds like its from centuries past. It too has been covered by everyone and there's hardly a version of it I don't like, but Gillian usually gets the edge. The song - about a man who can't give his alibi to a murder because he was cheating with his best friend's wife - is incredibly heartbreaking and Gillian sings with every ounce of emotion she can pull. Dave wraps her in tight harmonies that give the song an otherworldly feel and brings me there at the scene watching this woman grieving at her lover's grave weighed down with the secret that she's the reason he is dead. Excuse me now while I turn my head away from you, I think someone must be chopping onions nearby causing my eyes to water something fierce.

"Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You"
From the bootleg Travellin' Companion, Vol. 4
Original by Bob Dylan

For the first year my wife and I dated we did it long distance. Every three weeks or so I'd make the drive from East Tennessee to Indiana to see her for the weekend. When Sunday came there were always hard goodbyes, and often long puttings off of those goodbyes. She'd look at me with those sad puppy dog eyes and I'd make some excuse to stay a little longer until finally I'd leave getting home at the wee hours of the night. I didn't know this song then, but in my memories it has become the soundtrack to those short weekends and as I rewrite those Sundays I throw my ticket out the window and stay another night with her.

Though Gillian sings this one just beautifully, this song belongs to Dave. His picking is tremendous. Check out that solo towards the end, dude's got soul. Oh and right after when they bring it back with "throw my ticket out the window" I'm right there with them, chucking it as far as I can, running off the train and into my girl's arms, ready to stay the night.

"Snowin' On Raton"
From the bootleg dated June 20 1996
Original by Townes Van Zandt

Townes was another one of those guys who wrote songs older and more beautiful than any man has a right to sing. "Snowin' On Raton" is one of his very best. Gillian and Dave play the hell out of it. I hate to keep going on about their voices, but seriously they harmonize better than just about anybody I've ever heard. I don't know what those two did before they met each other, but if there is such a thing as a match made in Heaven, I think ole' God has these two framed and hanging on His wall.

I have about a dozen versions of them singing this song and its right there up at the top of my list of songs I hope they play in a couple of weeks. Townes lyrics are sad and poetic and as beautiful as the mountains he's writing about. Gillian's voice just glows with the magic of angels and the sun and stars.

"The Weight" with special guests Emmylou Harris, Chris Thile and Old Crow Medicine Show
From the bootleg dated June 6, 2005
Original by the Band

"The Weight" is one of my all time, absolute favorite songs. It has those beautiful, elliptical lyrics that could mean just about anything and the chorus has those fading in harmonies that just slay me, and its crazy fun to sing a long with. This is not my favorite version of the covers I have of this song, but I couldn't resist throwing in all these guest stars. The bootleg comes from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival which is one of those events I just have to go to before I die. Everybody takes turn singing a verse and they all throw in on the chorus. With such a lineup the picking is a knock out too and you can tell that everyone is having blast.

I'm hoping I will be too next week.