[from Jedediah Purdy's "Twenty Years of Listening to Gillian Welch"]
Friday, September 09, 2016
"Welch takes from her mountain and Southern sources a set of metaphysical intuitions. We are not made for satisfaction. To be a person is often to feel exiled, alone, and predestined. These axioms of Appalachian Protestantism, which you can hear in songs like the Stanley Brothers’ 'Rank Stranger,' are the fixations of Welch’s 'The Harrow & The Harvest' (2011), her fourth and most recent album, whose master theme is fatalism. 'The way that it goes,' 'the way that it ends,' and 'the way it will be' are some of the refrains, and the music feels like being caught in a slow-moving but irresistible force, maybe just the temperamental force of what Welch calls being 'blessed with a dark turn of mind.' The predestination here is to perennially reckon with unruly and obdurate feeling: people cannot help what moves them, what makes them feel alive. Morphine, 'soldier’s joy,' and heroin pop up frequently in Welch’s songwriting, and, like other motifs, feel as much symbolic as literal. The sense of fate in her mature songwriting resembles the feeling of addiction: a blurred line between desires and needs, pleasure and enervation, what feeds you and what consumes you."