Watch Out! Gillian Welch and David Rawlings Sing “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” Oscars 2019

The 2019 Academy Awards held very little appeal for me (how was Ben Dickey, Alia Shawkat and Charlie Sexton’s performances in ‘Blaze’ overlooked?!) but a break in the tedium came when Kacey Musgraves introduced Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. The Americana legends bedecked in matching nudie-esque suit finery performed “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings.” The song was a contender in this year’s race for best original song from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” Welch and Rawlings wrote the track, which was performed on the Coen Brothers’ series and soundtrack by actor Tim Blake Nelson and singer-songwriter Willie Watson.

The Coen Brothers also received nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

Hear Gillian Welch & David Rawlings Perform “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings”

 Gillian Welch & David  Rawlings -  “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings”

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings wrote “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” for the recent six-part Coen brothers anthology, The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs. If you watched the show you know the original song was sung by Tim Blake Nelson as Buster Scruggs alongside Willie Watson as “The Kid.” Today, Welch and Rawlings share a new version that they will perform at the 91st Academy Awards on 2/24.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings recently garnered a nomination for “Best Original Song” at the 2019 Academy Awards, for “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings.” their version of the song on Acony Records, which they sing in their own lonesome and timeless
style, invoking both the absurd fatalism of the show and their own penchant for a good yodel.

Welch and Rawlings said about their nomination: “We are eternally grateful to Ethan and Joel Coen for giving us the opportunity to write a cowboy duet between the living and the dead, and to Willie Watson and Tim Blake Nelson for bringing it to life.”

The pair confirmed they will perform the song on The Grand Ole Opry on February 16th as well as at the 91st Academy Awards on Sunday, February 24, 2019.

Welch revealed the story behind the song and working with the Coen Brothers in a recent Rolling Stone interview:

“They [The Coen Brothers] gave David and I the script, and they gave us the script of maybe two other of the shorts in the collection so we could gauge the darkness [laughs]… And then there was just a really basic conversation [with Joel Coen]. He was like, “Look, there’s the singing cowboy — he’s been around for a while. Now here comes the new guy. He’s cuter, he’s faster and he sings better. He’s just better. It’s the new model. He’s coming for him.”… Joel just said, “Here’s the specifics of it. They have to be able to sing it together. They have to be able to sing it once Tim has been shot and is dead and is floating up to heaven.”

Gillian also spoke to Variety about her and Rawlings’ process writing the song:
“It was a pretty straightforward thing: ‘Well, we need a song for when two singing cowboys gun it out, and then they have to do a duet with one of ‘em dead. You think you can do that?’ ‘Yeah, I think we can do that’”… “The more peculiar restraints you put upon a song, the more fun it is, so this was kind of a dream assignment,” Welch says. “And they didn’t tell us to do this, but if you’re writing a gunfight song between two singing cowboys, who wouldn’t love the opportunity to put some yodeling in?”

Buy the single “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” here.

T Bone Burnett, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings will receive Berklee American Master Awards at Music City Roots

Gillian Welch

Berklee College of Music will present American Master Awards to legendary record producer, songwriter and recording artist T Bone Burnett, as well as the acclaimed roots duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings on a special Tuesday night edition of Music City Roots, the variety weekly music broadcast from the Factory in Franklin, TN. The show, set for March 15, 2016, will feature performances by outstanding all-star Berklee alums Sierra Hull (’11), Liz Longley (’10) and Maureen Murphy (’99). Berklee alumni Welch and Rawlings will perform as well, closing the show following presentation of the awards.

Berklee at Music City Roots, Live at the Factory is open to the public and tickets will be available at The show will air on participating public radio affiliates around the country on a future date.

The American Master Award is presented by Berklee to industry leaders whose openness, generosity and deep commitment to music education have made a positive impact on the lives of young musicians, providing them opportunities to grow as artists and leaders. Past recipients of the award include Grand Ole Opry Manager Pete Fisher, drummer Eddie Bayers and recording executive Jim Ed Norman.

“We’ve enjoyed the music of quite a few Berklee graduates and students on Music City Roots over the years, and we know what an important role the college has played in supporting roots and Americana artists to develop fresh and original takes on tradition, so this special show means a lot to us,” says the show’s journalist and artist interviewing co-host Craig Havighurst.

Gillian Welch, along with her singing, guitar playing partner David Rawlings, both Berklee class of 1992, made an immediate impact on American music with the release of their 1996 album Revival. Since then, they’ve released a string of acclaimed albums that update the atmosphere of Appalachian folk music and participated in key milestones of Americana, including the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack of 2001. T Bone Burnett produced Welch and Rawlings’ first album and the O Brother soundtrack, plus dozens of other recordings by artists as varied as Los Lobos, Ralph Stanley, Elton John and Diana Krall. He has been a member of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, a Grammy-nominated recording artist and an enabler of numerous careers.

The March 15 show and award ceremony coincides with and celebrates Berklee’s Nashville trip, now an honored annual tradition. For 31 years, a group of Berklee students has spent its spring break in Nashville, getting deep music industry insight through clinics and workshops with accomplished alumni artists, songwriters, producers and engineers. The trip, which began with five students, has grown to more than 100 students per year and is led by Pat Pattison, professor of songwriting, and Stephen Webber, program director for the Music Production, Technology and Innovation Program at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain. More than 3,000 students have attended the program since its inception. Longley and Hull participated in the Nashville trip as Berklee students. Welch and Rawlings first connected and started playing together as a result of the trip.

“This feels like a homecoming and a new beginning at the same time,” said Berklee President Roger Brown. “We’re thrilled to recognize T Bone, Gillian and David for their immeasurable contributions to music here in Nashville where so many Berklee alumni have become integral to the music community, and to forge a partnership with Music City Roots, a show that is so important to the tradition of live radio.”

The show will be webcast free via Livestream at 7:00 p.m. central at

Dave Rawlings Machine Announces New Album ‘Nashville Obsolete.’

Dave Rawlings Machine

2015 Americana releases are about to get much, much better.

Dave Rawlings Machine has announced the release of their second album, ‘Nashville Obsolete,’ on Acony Records on September 18. ‘Nashville Obsolete,’ is the follow-up to the 2009 debut ‘A Friend of a Friend.’

‘Nashville Obsolete’ was recorded on analog tape at Woodland Sound Studios in Nashville, TN, whose client list includes Willie Nelson, Bob Seger, Neal Diamond, Emmylou Harris, John Mellencamp, Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dusty Springfield, Alabama and many, many others.

‘Nashville Obsolete’ features seven original compositions written by Rawlings and longtime collaborator Gillian Welch and produced by Rawlings. This will be the seventh studio album the duo have appeared together on.

Along with vocals and guitar byRawlings and Welch, other contributors included Willie Watson on vocals and guitar, Punch Brothers Paul Kowert of on bass, and guest appearances from Brittany Haas on fiddle and Jordan Tice on mandolin. A tour in support of the album is forthcoming.

Welch and Rawlings, along with Buffy Sainte-Marie, Don Henley, Ricky Skaggs & Los Lobos, will also be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting from the Americana Music Association during the 2015 Honors & Awards ceremony held at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The award will be presented to the two days before the album is released on September 16.

1. The Weekend
2. Short Haired Woman Blues
3. The Trip
4. Bodysnatchers
5. The Last Pharaoh
6. Candy
7. Pilgrim (You Can’t Go Home)

Pre-orders of ‘Nashville Obsolete’ are currently available from iTunes and physically and Amazon

Here’s Welch and Rawlings’ opening number of “65 Revisited,” the Bob Dylan 50th anniversary tribute of his electric performance at Newport Folk Festival.

5 Duos To Feed Your The Civil Wars Jones

By now you heard the bad news that The Civil Wars have cancelled all their upcoming shows and are giving each other some space. What’s a lover of melodic Americana duos with lovely harmonies that have possible ambiguous romantic ties to do?!  Here are 5 alternatives to quell those nerves until the reunion tour is announced.

 Ry Dalee and Evangeline – I don’t don’t much about this Oklahoma duo but I like what I hear!

Caitlin Cary & Thad CockrellBegonias – Sure it was a one-off release from 2005 but these two Americana vets released one of the most gorgeous romantic duo albums ever. It even comes through in this crappy video.

Chapel Hill’s Mandolin Orange are the talented Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz whose tunes will soothe your soul.

Charleston, SC’s Michael Trent and Cary Ann are Shovels and Rope and are a bit rougher than The Civil Wars fare, but certainly no less talented.

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings are the obvious choice and are the standardbearers for male/female duos in Americana.



Music Review: Mandolin Orange – Haste Make / Hard Hearted Stranger [self-released]

This is not typically the kind of music that floats my boat. Most Americana that works the folkie singer/songwriter side of the fence leaves me cold. To me like it’s more commercially lucrative cousin pop-country; a watered down version of a powerful source who’s soul was sold long, long ago. Like corporate beer and steak chain restaurants something wonderful went terribly wrong while bringing something to the masses. And even though folk never sells in Music City numbers the brunch-folk styling of Jack Johnson and M Ward have led to a relatively wide audience and financial independence for the artists.

But sometimes a performer reminds us of what once was. Dylan did this. So did Townes Van Zandt. The Chapel Hill, NC duo of Andrew Marlin (guitar, mandolin, harmonica)  and Emily Frantz (violin/fiddle, guitar, vocals), collectively known as Mandolin Orange, draw from a deeper well than those others to craft their songs and sound. Like Welch and Rawlings or Parsons and Harris there is a reverence for history while charting new sonic landscapes.

There is subtlety in the arraignments. Songs like No Weight and Runnin’ Red would make perfect living room performance faire for a polite audience. But  like a trace of arsenic after a sip of fine whiskey or a Smith & Wesson hammer clicking back under a table set for a romantic dinner there something  menacing just below the surface.

From the excellent Runnin’ Red “The waters runnin’ red tonight, and our bridge is burnin’ hot, we parted ways in the middle, now we gaze from each side” and the Van Zandt-like Clover “You used to live untruly, so kindly, and it left you lying here in ruin, you cut the hand of a good friend and you smiled in all your doing.”

This is not music made to be pretty, but pretty music made to be honest.

To ratchet the burden even higher Mandolin Orange has crafted 18 consistently excellent songs across two disks,  individually titled Haste Make / Hard Hearted Stranger. There may be a thematic difference between the two but I can’t discern between them. The albums sweeps past you like memories of a whiskey-fueled Saturday night or the landscape from the window of a speeding 18-wheeler. They shift and blur into a singular whole that surprises you when it ends. It surprised me even more that after 18 songs I still wanted more.

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Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival 11 Wrap Up

The 11th annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival was dedicated to the activist folk/country singer who died in April at the age of 75. Dickens had played the festival every year since it’s inception in 2001. Her influence was felt everywhere from the her likeness stamped on the programs, to references from the stages and the sense of community in the crowd and from the stage.

During the Wronglers’ set with Jimmie Dale Gilmore that kicked day 2 of the three day event, the band had Dickens’ longtime collaborator Ron Thomason sit in for a cover of Dickens’ signature song, “The Mannington Mine Disaster.” Wrongler banjoist, festival benefactor and longtime Dickens fan, Warren Hellman said  “We were very fond of each other but we couldn’t be two more opposite people,” Hellman said. “She’s probably looking down from heaven right now thinking, ‘How did that old bastard make it?”

Next I was off to the Star stage to catch my buddy Jimbo Mathus in the South Memphis String Band. The cosmic-America vibe mixed with front porch casualness easily won over the crowing crowd as the smell of the Bay Area’s favorite controlled substance filled the air. Jolie Holland, a Texan by way of Bay Area is a distinctive voice ran her all-famale  four-piece band a braod swath of her discography with charm and passion.

Then off to the Arrow Stage for Southern Culture on the Skids. I’d been wanting to see SCOTS for a long time but it never worked out. Their brand of white-trash boogie is like a monster truck, a wonder of precision fused to a aesthetic awesome abomination.

I headed due East to settle in at the Banjo stage to catch John Prine. Prine still casts a folkie wry eye on modern living. His opening number Spanish Pipedream – “Blow up your TV, throw away your paper, Go to the country, build you a home.” With Bay Area rent what it is this is a sentiment appreciated in spirit if less so in practice.

As anticipated the heavy crowd quickly swelled when the ex-Zep wailer Robert Plant brought his latest roots music venture – The Band of Joy, to the Banjo Stage. Grittier than his work with Alison Krauss on Raising Sand. Variations of Los Lobos, Low, Townes Van Zandt and reworked Zeppelin tunes were visited. The mic was passed between Plant and band-mates Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, and Darrell Scott . The plant encored with excellent reworks of Zeppelin’s Bron-Y-Aur Stomp and Gallows Pole.

Saturday was dominated by two living country music legends. Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson ran through a treasure trove of golden hits of their own and from Bob Wills and Johnny Cash on the Star Stage as the sun warmed the capacity crowd.

When I saw Gillian Welch and David Rawlings a few months back as they struck out on their current tour Gillian had mentioned that it was the lack of new material while playing Hardly Strictly 10 that led to the creation of their current release Harrow and the Harvest. The pair made up for it at HSB 11 as new songs were slotted in with older favorites in their 12 song set which encored, appropriate for San Francisco, Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit.

Golden Gate Park has a long history of free music festivals, beginning with the “Human Be-In” of 1967 and continues Hardly Strictly Bluegrass because of one banjo player, bluegrass and roots music enthusiast, Warren Hellman. You could see him on the side of the stage catching many of the acts smiling like a kid. Even sharing the stage with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, resplendent in a Nudie-style black jacket, sparkling Stars of David along the sleeves designed by his granddaughter, his love of the music is felt from observing him and results in the three day event and 90 acts spread across six stages highlighting some of the best of Americana and roots music. Every year, stacks of personal thank-you cards turn up at the offices of Hellman & Friedman, his private equity investment offices, but you can imagine that even without the gratitude he;d still do it for personal pleasure. There are worse ways to spend your millions.

If there was a negative to the HSB festival they were the aforementioned record-breaking crowds. The large amount of older people, children and dogs addd to often stand-still conditions made things uncomfortable if not dangerous. Perhaps next year a minimal cover charge to keep the crowd under control? Also, and I understand that this is San Francisco, bit the amount of marijuana in the air made it obviously family unfriendly. What you do with your body is your business but when your purple crush wafts downwind to a playing three-year old you’re imposing on others.

Also, I’ve never understood the inclusion of bands that have absolutely no Americana or roots music influences on the bill. Broken Social Scene may be a indy darling but there are a hundreds local and national bands that would kill for a spot at the premier Americana festival that is currently occupied by a band that can get a slit at any of the dozen rock festivals held.

Thanks to Warren Hellman, Dawn Holliday, general manager of Slim’s and the Great American Music Hall, who spends half the year organizing the Hardly Strictly event, and all the other volunteers and other personnel for putting together another great (and FREE!)  event.

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings – “I’ll Fly Away, White Rabbit”


Kris Kristofferson & Merle Haggard playing “Sunday Morning Coming Down”


Robert Plant and the Band of Joy – “Thank You”


Concert Review: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings – Warfield Theatre, San Francisco – 7/7/11

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings were greeted by an adoring Bay Area crowd Thursday night with and wit a wide smile Gillian greeted the crowd  “Howdy!”  She added “Somebody gave me shit the other day for saying “Howdy.” “Hi” yeah that’s more colorful.” In a nutshell that is Gillian Welch’s music, quaint traditionalism as a defiant gesture to a modern and cynical world. In many ways it’s the same attitude that close genre cousin Music City takes in creating their product. But Welch, and the rich vein of Americana acts that flooded in the aftermath of O Brother…bring a lack of contrivance to the craft and a love of the tradition they honor.

Strolling onstage Rawlings, in gentleman cowboy courtier with fitted suit and a straw Stetson carried his signature 1935 Epiphone Olympic and Welch in simple dark dress was carrying her 1956 Gibson J50 acoustic guitar and vintage Vega Whyte Laydie banjo.. In person Gillian Welch, a hardscrabble, sparrow-boned woman with fine red hair, looks very much like a like a Steinbeck character. A perfect embodiment of the music she performs.

Welch, who is an UCSC alumnus and lived in the Bay are in the early 90’s, mentioned that she had seen several shows at their venue this night,  the historic Warfield Theatre. “I saw a Jerry (Garcia) show here. I saw Tom Waits here, the one they filmed. And I was here for the Pixies when we broke the balcony dancing an jumping around.” She then added “It look much different from this side.”

After a rousing opening of Scarlet Town, also from, The Harrow & The Harvest, Welch mentioned was their fist time they had performed the song live. “Thanks for being our experimental lab.” She said. The applause, hoops and hollers showed the crowed was open to a show without a net.

If Trace Adkins or Toby Keith came into the Bay Area I’m not sure how many of the locals would stand in rapt attention about live below the banjos, trains and life below the Mason/Dixon but when Welch was doing this very thing on Down Along The Dixie Line they couldn’t get enough. It seems themes might be universal but the vehicle for delivery matters.

A lilting version crowd favorite, Look at Miss Ohio from 2003’s Soul Journey closed out the first set, there was a 15 minute intermission for them as well as the audience to get a drink or dispose of same.

The second set opened with the back-woods existential romp The Way It Goes. David Rawlings took a turn at the wheel by performing the whimsical David Rawlings Machine number Sweet Tooth. Rawlings then took banjo duty for Six White Horses and while singing duet at a single mic Gillian did band slapping sort of like playing spoons but she was too poor to afford spoons. The often stayed dead silent in the quieter songs but clapped and sang along to the to the more rollicking songs from the new album (played in it’s entirety) as well as the classics like Revelator and I Want To Sing That Rock and Roll, and no one left early. In fact, many stayed late—a testament to the quality of the music as well as the performance.

The first encore (there were two) featured an inspired rendition of the traditional number I’ll Fly Away, which Gillian sang along with Alison Krauss on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. The crowd sand so loudly with her that several times Welch’s eyes widened and lit up with surprise.

As a guitarist I’m especially impressed by a great player of David Rawlings caliber. His style falls somewhere between Chet Atkins and Django Reinhardt yet ends up sounding like nobody but himself. He deftly coaxes beautiful tones and delicate textures with deceptive ease.

“We promised not to let you leave happy.” Welch quipped referring to the frequent theme of misery that runs through their canon, before preforming the fitting closing song The Way The Whole Thing Ends. I’m sure as the crowd spilled into the brisk San Francisco night agreed that it sure felt good to feel this bad.


[edit – the playlist added]

Set I-Scarlet Town-Silver Dagger-One Morning-Elvis Presley Blues-Annabelle-The Way It Goes-A Dark Turn Of Mind-I Want To Sing That R&R-Hard Times-Look At Miss Ohio. Set II-Down Along The Dixie Line-No One Knows My Name-6 White Horses-Tennessee-Revelator-Swe​et Tooth-Red Clay Halo. E-The Way It Will Be-I’ll Fly Away. E2-The Way The Whole Thing Ends.

Music Review: Gillian Welch – The Harrow & the Harvest [Acony]

If there is such a thing as a superstar in the Americana genre then Gillian Welch is one. Her debut album, Revival, came out in the height of Nashville stylized indulgence – hitherto known as the Garth years – and reached so far back in style and subject matter that it couldn’t be called old school, it predated the school itself. This New York City born and Berklee College of Music educated woman became a gabardine-clad personification mountain holler laments and sepia drenched Dust Bowl yarns. Like Duluth, Minnesota’s Bob Zimmerman she embodied the ancestral ghosts of mythology and willed herself into a contemporary symbol of a bygone era by exhibiting a respect for the cultural legacy and  ingenuity to work within the confines to create music that sounds not only timeless but new.

To further distinguish herself , at the time of her debut many of Welch’s contemporaries were approaching their work from a folky, more Lilith-like, direction. Welch was rougher, darker, and delivered her talws with grit. Like Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson, she appeared to be a woman that could drink you under the table and hold herself in a fight.

After an 8-year stretch, where Welch battled writer’s block and provided a supporting role for performing partner David Rawlings solo undertaking, By plan or happenstance The Harrow & the Harvest has been released  to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the Coen Brothers O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a move that in many ways reflects to neo-rustic forms crafted by Welch. The movie’s multi-platinum soundtrack was a watershed moment for the Americana music genre and featured Welch performing alongside better-known contemporaries Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris. Welch also has a cameo in the film requesting a copy of the best-selling single from the movies fictitious group Soggy Bottom Boys.

On The Harrow & the Harvest Welch heeds timeless advice and doesn’t try and fix what’s not broken by offering up 10 songs of want and worry in many varieties. Scarlet Town opens with the protagonist visiting a town calamity and deception that would make Dr. Ralph Stanley bow his head in woe. The darkness of the songs subject is countered dazzlingly by David Rawlings deft guitar picking.

The murder ballad Dark Turn Of Mind carries a sinister undercurrent that belies it’s lulling cadence with a come-on / threat “take me and love me if you want me, but don’t ever treat me unkind. ‘cause I had bad trouble already, and he left me with a dark turn of mind”

The Way It Will Be is a smooth-folk Crosby, Stills and Nash-like that takes the associated SoCal groove to darker regions and The Way It Goes is a jaunty ode to weary fatalism that comes from a worn soul.

Tennessee is a character study in temptation and willful sin in the best Puritan tradition of the Southern Gothic form. The arch leads us from Sunday School to carousing, dancing and gambling all leading to the sweet bye and bye. The Way The Whole Thing Ends fittingly as it saunters and offers up hillbilly existential nuggets like “That’s the way the cornbread crumbles. That’s the way the whole thing ends.”

All in all The Harrow & the Harvest is a, paraphrasing from the song Scarlet Town , a deep well and a dark grave of an album brimming with hard truths as plainly told stiff as a pull of mash. It’s a fine return to form from an crafts-person that has been sorely missed.  It’s the feel bad album of the summer

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News Round Up: Lucinda Williams Tweets New Album Title

  • Lucinda Williams took to Twitter to announce the title of her forthcoming album. Continuing her recent theme of happiness and matrimonial bliss the title will be Blessed. I guess Lou got her Joy back.
  • Ms. Lucinda and other notable Americana music folks, Drive By Truckers, Todd Snider, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Rhett Miller, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Hayes Carll, became animated to appear in a special musical episode of Cartoon Network’s cartoon centered on hillbilly cephalopods -  Squidbillies.
  • Folk singer-songwriter Ana Egge has tapped Steve Earle as producer for her seventh solo album. The album will be recorded in Woodstock, New York in the fall to record at Levon Helm Studio.
  • Moody-Old time Americana band Black Prairie (a side project for three members of the Decemberists and other notable Portland, OR. musicians) has recently released two new songs they are giving away for free.

The Blackest Crow

Turn It Into Gold

Todd Snider, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Rhett Miller, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Hayes Carll