All the good times are past and gone! It sounds like a lockdown lament. And in some ways it is! For All the Good Times is the title of the latest release from Gillian Welch and David Rawlings and is an abbreviation from an album track, the traditional “All the Good Times Are Past and Gone.”
And yes, All the Good Times was recorded by the couple at home in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“For reasons better discussed in the history books, in the Spring of 2020 Gillian and I dusted off an old tape machine and did some home recording,” Rawlings said in a statement on the day of a streamed release.
It is an album of covers, 10 in fact from the likes of Bob Dylan, John Prine, Norman Blake, Jerry Leiber and Elizabeth Cotton.
“Sometimes we bumped the microphone, sometimes the tape ran out, but in the end we captured performances of some songs we love. Five are first takes and five took a little more doing, but they all helped pass the time and held our interest in playback enough that we wanted to share them with you,” Rawlings added.
If there was ever any act qualified to produce home reel-to-reel recordings, it is surely Welch and Rawlings, who could lay claim to being the most polished live acoustic act in Americana Music.
When one is trapped in a living room, perhaps there is nothing more profound than Dylan’s “Senor” – Can you tell me where we’re headin’?/Lincoln County Road or Amageddon?
This stimulating rendition sees the couple displaying their hallmark ability to produce perfect harmony in sync with lead vocals – Rawlings on this occasion - and distinctive finger-picking. Dylan gets another look-in when the pair cover his marriage-breakup lament “Abandoned Love.” It is not the first time they have done Dylan. There is a glorious live cover of “Billy” on the impressive Music From The Revelator Collection (Live), released 18 years ago.
As might be expected so soon after his death, there is a John Prine song among the covers. Welch and Rawlings belong to a generation of singer-songwriters who owe much to Prine and they certainly do the great man justice with a mesmerizing rendition of “Hello in There.” Welch is simply subline, holding notes unmatched in other high-profile versions by the likes of Joan Baez and Bette Midler.
The other big-name cover is the Jerry Leiber/Billy Wheeler country classic “Jackson,” which Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash turned into a crossover hit. Welch and Rawlings make no attempt to match the Carter-Cash honky-tonkish treatment, but instead turn it into trademark acoustic blues, with sweet harmonies matching frenetic guitar plucking!
There are a handful of traditional numbers, with distinctively eclectic arrangements by the pair. Leading the way is the above-mentioned bluegrass-influenced “All The Good Times Are Past and Gone,” which the pair perform with sophistication and almost reverence. They do much the same with the 19th century murder ballad “Poor Ellen Smith.”
And in the middle of the collection lies a buried treasure, the delightful Norman Blake Mississippi-folk standard “Ginseng Sullivan” which sees Welch at her ballad best.
This release is significant, not only for the circumstances of its recording, but for the fact that it is the first album released by Welch and Rawlings under their joint names. They have collaborated on several – five under Gillian Welch (the last being The Harrow and The Harvest in 2011), two under The David Rawlings Machine (2009 & 2015) and a separate album Rawlings released in his own name three years ago.
Since then they have co-written an Academy Award-nominated song, “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from the Coen Brothers movie The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. And Welch recently released a Mother’s Day single suitably titled “Happy Mother’s Day.”
Of all their impressive output, it seems they may best remember this home-made pandemic production. If ever there is another virus in the wind, it may pay to put Welch and Rawlings on a list of essential workers. Just make sure their home recorder is in working order, with a good stock of tapes.
Editor – Crossroads Americana Music Appreciation