Artists aren’t always the best judges of their own work — in fact, sometimes they can actually be their own worst enemies.
Look no further than Gillian Welch. The revered Americana singer-songwriter has only released a single, solitary album of new original songs in the last 17 years. But based on what she told me several years ago, it’s not due to writer’s block. She claimed she is always crafting new songs — only to end up abandoning or shelving them because the notorious perfectionist doesn’t feel they’re good enough. Well, judging by her new archival offering The Lost Songs, Vol. 1, she is way too hard on herself. And her audience. The second volume in her recent ‘bootleg’ series — and the first part of a trilogy that will reportedly unearth 48 previously unreleased tracks written and recorded between her 2001 masterpiece Time (The Revelator) and the 2003 followup Soul Journey — Lost Songs is no hodge-podge of half-baked ideas and tossed-off odds ’n’ sods. Like all of Welch’s albums, it’s filled with the earthy sincerity, rustic elegance and bittersweet twang that have defined her work since Day 1. More to the point, it’s loaded with songs that most artists would sell their souls to write. I don’t know if time’s revelations have softened Welch’s opinion of her work, or if longtime guitarist, producer and partner David Rawlings helped change her mind, or what. Honestly, I’m just happy these long-buried treasures are finally seeing the light of day. Here’s hoping there’s another 17 years of outtakes to come in their wake.
THE PRESS RELEASE: The new collection is unearthed from a cache of home demos and reel-to-reel recordings and is the second release of archival music from the vault of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. This remarkable 48-song collection, spread over three volumes and produced by Rawlings, was recorded between the making of Time (The Revelator) and Soul Journey. It is an intimate glimpse at the artist’s sketchbook, containing some lifelong themes as well as some flights of fancy. The versatility and quality shown here greatly expand the Welch/Rawlings canon, and confirm that the acclaimed studio albums from the pair have never been an accident, but a clear artistic choice. Said the duo about the release, “We stashed these recordings away years ago. Their shortcomings, real or imagined, technical or compositional, no longer seem bothersome today. Hearing them now is like seeing snapshots that captured moments the more formal portraits missed. So here we are hurrying them for release before the next tornado blows the whole shoebox away.”