Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Short Haired Woman Blues – Dave Rawlings Machine

So I’ve posted plenty of songs here from Gillian Welch. And with good reason – in my book she can do no wrong. But until now I haven’t posted anything from fellow partner-in-crime, Dave Rawlings. So ahead of a brand new album from him later this month, I thought it time to right that wrong.

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To be fair, it is somewhat artificial to make this split between Welch and Rawlings. The two have been inseparable in their recording and performing career, and are very much a democratic duo. It’s just that for each recording they have chosen one or other of them to act as the front to the other. True, Welch was four albums in before a Rawlings album appeared. But of late it has been Rawlings who has been more prolific, with the new album, Poor David’s Almanack, being the third in a period when Welch has only fronted one (albeit that was the totally sublime, career highlight that was The Harrow and The Harvest).

Together they plough a very traditionalist furrow, drawing on various roots traditions such as folk, bluegrass, country and old-time music, whilst at the some time having a sound that is all their own, and oddly contemporary. And in many ways the songs could interchange between the two of them. Short Haired Woman Blues, as an example, falls into that classic Welch/Rawlings stock of languid, stretched-out ballads that I just love. For me, these songs could go on forever and never outstay their welcome.

And so to the song sheet. A little more complicated this one, though not excessively so. There’s a batch of chords in there, not all of which are stricty accurate compared to the original, but ones which act as a (to my ears) reasonable sounding translation of the subtleties of the original guitar chords to the ukuele. In particular, that chord labelled and shown as B5 isn’t actually B5, but I think it fits OK into the song at that point. To my mind the song is best played pick (although I’m certainly not attempting to emulate Rawlings wonderful playing!), but it can be strummed as well. Timing can be a little tricky in places, but listen to the original and you’ll get the feel. Note the song sheet is in G, whilst the original is in G#. So capo 1 if you want to play along with the original. Enjoy!

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One Little Song – Gillian Welch

souljourneyLooking back it’s been over 18 months since I posted a Gillian Welch song on here. So it seemed time to rectify that.

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So this morning this little ditty popped up whilst the iPod was playing on shuffle. And I thought, “that’s nice” and “that would work on the ukulele”. So this evening I gave it a try. And I was right – it does work.

This is the third song from 2003’s Soul Journey album that I’ve posted on here (see also Look At Miss Ohio and No One Knows My Name). Which is odd, because as I said previously that album is probably my least favourite of her albums (which doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means that Gillian sets the bar *so* high). But in contrast to the fuller band sound of a number of the tracks, One Little Song is stripped back to the very basics – just haunting vocals and picked guitar. It is a brief but not inconsequential tune that is seemingly born of a struggle to write a new tune (Welch sets herself high standards, and has commented that songwriting can be a struggle, something that contributed to the 8 year gap between Soul Journey and it’s follow-up, The Harrow and the Harvest).

And here’s the songsheet. Nothing too complicated as far as the chords are concerned, although there are a number of barre chords in there. I’ve added in an Asus4 for the intro, and you can throw a few of those into the first couple of lines of the verses if you wish, to give it a bit more colour. Oh, and this is definitely one to try picking if you can – its not really a strummer. Enjoy!

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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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Look At Miss Ohio – Gillian Welch

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A little while back I said that Gillian Welch might pop up quite regularly on this blog. To date she’s only appeared the once, and so it’s about time I put that right.

As I said on that first post, I do so love the music that Gillian Welch makes. Every time I come back to it there’s something warm and welcoming about it that wraps you up and holds you in its arms. That’s not to say this is bland, escapist stuff – there’s plenty of heartache, pain and tragedy sprinkled across these songs of hers, but there is something in these songs that leaves me with a sense of peace and contentment. I guess there was probably a time when I would have thought that was a bad thing. But right now I think that is a wonderful gift to give anybody. Edgy has its time and place, but sometimes you just want to be hugged, and Gillian’s songs do that for me.

“Look At Miss Ohio” is another song from her 2003 album “Soul Journey“. If truth be known it’s probably my least favourite of all her albums (in part due to the more band-oriented sound), but that is just a relative judgement. Gillian has never made a bad record, and there are some wonderful songs on Soul Journey. Whereas No One Knows My Name has more of an upbeat, bluegrass-y feel to it, Look At Miss Ohio falls into my favourite category of Gillian Welch songs – the slowburners. Those gentle, repetative, almost trance-like songs that are just *so* gorgeous. She took this to a mighty extreme on 2001’s Time (The Revelator) with the track I Dream A Highway – 14 and a half minutes of pure bliss, and when it ends it just feels like too soon. That song could go on forever as far as I’m concerned!

Lok At Miss Ohio is a song about a girl who might want to settle down at some point, but wants to live, to have some fun, before she does that. Who wants to do right, but not right now. Personally I’m many years the other side of that particular dilema, but it still rings a chord, and maybe a little ache inside about not having done so as much as maybe I should have. It’s a gorgeous song, as this live acoustic version from St Lukes in London shows – just Gillian and constant musical companion Dave Rawlings.

And so to the song sheet. Quite straightforward for chords, although the instrumental interludes throw in one or two unusual chords. Not much more to say, to be honest  – just sing and enjoy!

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No One Knows My Name – Gillian Welch

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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!

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(p.s. there’s a good chance that Ms. Welch may be appearing on this blog quite regularly. you have been warned)