Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Revelator – Gillian Welch

timerevelatorI warned early on that there was likely to be an abundance of Gillian Welch songs on this site.* And as we haven’t had one for a while it seemed about time for another. Actually, this one was prompted by a comment left by Catherine on a previous post, with a specific request for a songsheet for this song, Revelator. At the time I didn’t have anything, but had looked at it previously and so took that as a prompt to pull something together.

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Revelator is the title track of Gillian’s third album, Time (The Revelator), the album that – after the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack – was my first introduction to Ms. Welch. And it is one of the slow-burning songs of which she is a master (or should that be mistress?!). Whilst the theme of the song is a not always clear, there’s a strong argument for suggesting that it is – in some ways – a retort to the criticisms of inauthenticity that have been levelled at here. Born in New York City and raised in LA, some critics have taken this to mean that the adoption and assimilation of the old-time roots in her music must somehow be fake, is somehow a deception. References to being “the pretender”, “the traitor”, “queen of imitators” could certainly suggest that was on her mind when writing the song, but clearly these are criticisms that she doesn’t accept, the song is a defiant riposte to those criticisms, and good on her for that. For me her music is a thing of sublime beauty, something certainly earthed in a lineage that looks back to those roots, and is totally true to them, but which is still about now, and to which 21st century listeners (myself included) can totally relate to.

As with many (most) of Gillian’s songs, this is performed with just herself and her long-time musical callaborator Dave Rawlings. Two people, two voices, two acoustic guitars (and Rawling’s playing is never less than stunning, incendiary when played live, as these recordings testify – 1, 2), the song is stark, but beautiful for it. A song that wraps you and engulfs you, something to lose yourself into.

And so to the song sheet. As I said earlier, this is something that I pulled together in response to request, and it did prove a little tricky. I’m still not 100% convinced by it (in particular the Am and “Am/C” at the end of the first two lines of the verse), but I think it sounds OK. The D definitely sounds better as the barred D (2225), but will still work with the standard one (2220). Clearly these are just the chords, and I haven’t attempted in any way to transcribed Dave Rawling’s licks and solos, but if you want to have a go at that be my guest. Enjoy!

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* Previous songs published here include April the 14th (Part 1), Look at Miss Ohio, and No One Knows My Name.

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April the 14th (Part 1) – Gillian Welch

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Here’s another from Ms. Welch. I never tire of these songs.

I first came across Gillian via. her involvement in the Coen brothers film, O Brother Where Art Thou. The film, and more particularly the soundtrack album, was my country music epiphany, and from that I’ve gone on to discover and love a whole host of country-related music. But that soundtrack really opened my eye and ears, as I think it did for a lot of others. Gillian was involved in a couple of songs on that record, collaborating with Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris, a combination made in heaven if ever there was one. The soundtrack, masterminded by the ubiquitous T-Bone Burnett, had a particular old-time (the film is set in the 1930s) take on country, and Gillian was custom-made for that job. Despite being born in 1960s New York, and spending much of her life growing up in Los Angeles, her music feels as old as the hills, stripped back, acoustic, shamelessly drawing on the spirit of early 20th century rural American music. As such, her authenticity has been questioned, but in my mind she inhabits the world these songs as fully as anyone. The songs, and the performances (usually with collaborator David Rawlings) ring true, and if you’ve ever seen her in performance you’ll know that these are from the heart.

[To be perfectly honest, that whole emphasis on “authenticity” comes across to me as a narrow and reactionary, almost fascist, view point that fails to recognise the inherent multi-cultural, variety of influences that people come under in their lives, and that regardless of people’s backgrounds these sources can and do connect with people in very real ways. Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor’s book Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music is a good read on this subject – read some of their (now inactive) blog entries here.]

Anyway. This some comes from Gillian’s 3rd album, Time (The Revelator), which was my introduction proper to Gillian’s music. It’s a languid, slow-burning song, befitting it’s subject matter. Focussing on the somewhat disastrours experience of a somewhat down-at-heel “rock and roll band”, those events get put into some kind of context by reference to a series of historical disasters that coincidently all happened on the same day – April 14th. In 1865 the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (the “Great Emancipator”) by John Wilkes Booth, in 1912 the sinking of the Titanic after striking an iceberg, and in 1935 “Black Sunday” – the worst dust bowl storm ever, resulting in the residents of the region fleeing for other areas (many went to California). And if that is not enough, the album also includes a “(Part 2)” in the song Ruination Day, which continues these themes in a similar bleak style. So no, not the cheeriest of songs! But a great one nonetheless.

So here’s the song sheet. Nothing complicated in the basics here – the song itself is sparse, so take this as a starting point and do what you want with it. Enjoy!

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I Envy The Wind – Lucinda Williams

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Lucinda Williams’ Essence is an album that wraps and caresses like no other I know. Whilst being full of great songs, it is one of those records where truly the sum is even more than those delicious parts. A luxurious feel permeates every second, rich textures of sound all graced with Lucinda’s unmistakable voice. Full of brooding emotion, on the edge of cracking but just about holding it together, smokey, sultry, sensuous.

I Envy The Wind moves at a sedate, laid-back pace, a yearning vocal from a individual separated from her lover, jealous of the natural elements that embrace him. It’s relaxed tempo representative of the whole album (save the more cranked-up Get Right With God), this song encapsulates the pain of separation from the beloved.

So, a jolly song for the ukulele then?! Well no, but I love this song, and think that the deceptively simple nature of the song works well on the uke. Nothing complicated, nothing flash. Just a simple, raw, honest song. Enjoy!

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Oh. And if you like that, why not give “Blue” a try as well. Chords are here.