David Rawlings and Gillian Welch
Photo: Alysse Gafkjen
Nominees Rawlings And Welch's Haunting American Roots Music
Jointly nominated in the category Best American Roots Song for their composition "Cumberland Gap" at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, David Rawlings and Gillian Welch have been seekers of the unique sounds of Americana since first meeting at Berklee College of Music. Performing and writing – both together and separately, as they still do to this day – Rawlings and Welch attracted the attention and support of T Bone Burnett. The central tenets of American Roots music grew clearer to them as the search continued, reverence for the old, the finding of new uniquely American sonic touches, and the struggle to build a fresh recreation of musical tradition expressing struggle, longing, pain and searching, where the sweetness of the music can slip in and haunt the mind.
At the 44th GRAMMY Awards, the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? became a powerful show-and-tell for the genre, as millions in the television audience were treated to a medley of three numbers: Welch, joined by Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, performing "Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby," followed by Ralph Stanley singing "O Death" and finally the Soggy Bottom Boys' unforgettable performance of "I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow" as the finale. The soundtrack's Album Of The Year win netted Welch her first career GRAMMY Award. Rawlings tells a great story about that special night.
Across the past few years, while Welch was busy releasing her album The Harrow & The Harvest – along the way receiving her fifth GRAMMY nomination, this time for Best Folk Album – Rawlings was likewise busy, excelling in his role as the album's producer, which netted him his first GRAMMY nomination.
The two shared with the Recording Academy how Rawlings thinks Welch's having attended a "hippy school" with lots of singing gave her a head start in the music business. And although Rawlings started guitar late in life, what he can do with his signature 1935 Epiphone Olympic has a special following in itself. He started the David Rawlings Machine in 2006 as a touring band with a flexible line-up that often includes Welch. The two also share roster slots on Welch's indie label Acony Records.
Eminently humble, and still searching for rare and piercing musical expressions, the pair say they expect Jason Isbell's "If We Were Vampires" will ultimately take home the gramophone in their category on GRAMMY Sunday. Meanwhile, Rawlings and Welch are not slowing down. This year's 60th GRAMMY Awards will increase awareness of their gifts, recognition for what they have found so far, and a haunting sense of what these two will find to share with us in the years ahead.