Looking back over my first few posts it seems they’re all wrapped in an layer of nostalgia. The most recent being more than 25 years old. So I thought it time to show that my musical tastes haven’t ossified, and demonstrate that the 21st century is as full of good music as the 20th was. Step forward Ms Gillian Welch.
What? You were expecting something cutting edge and contemporary? Something with modern sounds, that addressed the sensibilities of the hyper-connected networked world in which we live? Something you were familiar with from the speakers of commercial radio stations or the background to the shopping mall. Yes, well I don’t really think that’s my thing. And just because music is made in the 21st century it doesn’t have to sound like it was, does it. So whilst being the newest song I’ve posted so far (2003) the irony here is that this one is by far the oldest sounding of all of them.
Gillian Welch (that’s Gillian with a hard “G”) is a wonderful anomaly. Derided by some for being a fake (she grew up in Los Angeles), her music is singularly derived from Appalachian, Bluegrass, and Americana music, described by The New Yorker as “at once innovative and obliquely reminiscent of past rural forms”. This is music that is steeped in its past, that is part of a tradition, and is deeply bedded in that tradition. Along with musical partner, guitarist David Rawlings, they have created a totally coherent musical sound that is so fresh and invigorating partly because it is so out-of-step with modern sounds. Totally acoustic, delicious harmonies, simple structures and traditional lyrical themes (including the odd murder song here and there!), what is not to like. OK, there’s not going to be a Gillian Welch theme-night on X-Factor (nice idea, though!). But that’s kind-of the point.
So to the song. No One Knows My Name is from the 2003 album Soul Journey, an album that marked something of a radical departure in having more of a “band” feel to the music (something discarded on the follow-up, 2011’s The Harrow and the Harvest). This song, however, is that classic Gillian Welch sound of just her and David Rawlings, banjo, guitar and voices, embelished with a nice fiddle-line all the way through given a jaunty good time feel that somewhat confuses the lyrical meditation on our place in the world, on loneliness and not being sure of our place in the world,
And here’s the best live version I could find (Gillian is really somebody you have to experience live. I saw here a couple of years ago in Brighton, and it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to).
And so to the songsheet. Gillian Welch songs tend to be musically straightforward, at least in terms of structure and chords, and this is no different . A simple four-line verse with a blues-like structure in their lines, the pattern repeats all the way through. I guess the thing to do is to take this basic structure and build light and shade in the instrumentation and harmonies. I couldn’t find any ukelele versions of this song anywhere (chords or performances), so take this and enjoy!
(p.s. there’s a good chance that Ms. Welch may be appearing on this blog quite regularly. you have been warned)