Friday, April 21, 2017

Billy (Dylan, Rawlings, Welch)


Well, they say Pat Garrett has got your number
So sleep with one eye open when you slumber
'Cause every little sound might be thunder
Thunder from the barrel of his gun.
This Bob Dylan song first surfaced on the soundtrack of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, a 1973 Western I've never seen (and in which Dylan has an acting role). The song has a number of verses, but this much later live cover by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings pares it down to four, in keeping with the starkness and simplicity of the performance (and the black-and-white cinematography). Rawlings's guitar work, in fact, is anything but simple, but he plays, as always, with such unassuming, seemingly effortless command of his instrument (a vintage Epiphone archtop) that it never jars or interferes.

Four verses, four plain-spoken lines each, scraps of a tattered tale about a long-dead gunslinger, it's almost enough to reconcile one with a world that is, more evidently than ever, far too much with us. Hopefully there's a quiet corner of the future where things like this still matter.

This version of "Billy" is available on a DVD entitled The Revelator Collection, which can be purchased from Gillian Welch's webstore.

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