Gillian Welch: Hell Among the Yearlings


By Derk Richardson  |  

Almo Sounds; (310) 289-3080; www.almosounds.com

Although this follow-up to the acclaimed 1996 debut (Revival) is heralded as Gillian Welch’s second album, Hell Among the Yearlings is a de facto duet recording with Welch’s musical partner David Rawlings. The pair wrote all the songs together, and except for producer T Bone Burnett’s piano and organ on the haunting “Whisky Girl,” they play all the instruments and sing together on every track. Welch does take the vocal lead, with Rawlings adding classic “high lonesome” harmonies in the old-timey Appalachian tradition. Indeed, with little more than their riveting voices, a couple of acoustic guitars and a banjo, Welch and Rawlings sound as if they’ve been dragged into the modern world out of some backwoods hollow. They sing about “Caleb Meyer” making whiskey to help him pass the time; a remorseful lover decrying “the devil on my back”; the effects of “My Morphine”; and the redemption offered by the “Rock of Ages.” This is indeed old-timey folk music, brooding, biblical, “dark as trouble in this heart of mine”—somehow written and performed in the 1990s with the kind of deep-seated authority you expect to hear only on recordings from 50 or 60 years earlier.