Gillian Welch's 2003 "Soul Journey" on AAA Vinyl For the First Time

Gillian Welch's fourth album originally released in 2003 on CD-only finally gets an AAA release, cut by Stephen Marcussen on the Ortofon VMS-80 cutting system Welch and partner Dave Rawlings bought and restored. Now that's progress!

It's an intensely melancholic album that does not shift mood for even one song. If you enjoy getting down in the deep weeds of sadness and regret you'll have a party. I did. While two songs are traditional, the subject matter of the others is contemporary, though the music is deeply embedded "rootsy" Americana played mostly on acoustic instruments.

To put an exclamation point on the proceedings, the closer, "Wrecking Ball" (about a "little Deadhead" who let her grades slip and loses her scholarship), brings in electricity and a full band. The opener, Welch's popular "Look at Miss Ohio" about a fallen beauty queen sounds the same theme, though it would be a mistake to hear these songs as tragedies.

Perhaps this all analog release comes in part now because with their own lathe the Rawlings-Welch team can finally hear this as they wish you to, but it's also possible that the album's deeply felt despondent musical mood and subject matter well matches for many the national mood—though of course these are personal not political songs about wrong turns, missed opportunities and twists of fate. If Welch and Rawlings were interested in a matching protest song they could have included Malvina Reynolds' "What Have They Done to the Rain?" but that's the opposite of what's intended here.

Welch's evocative, deeply felt vocalizing is perfect throughout as are the mostly acoustic backings with Welch and Rawlings joined by Mark Ambrose (guitar), Jim Boquist (bass guitar), Ketcham Secor (fiddle), and the ever present (it seems) Greg Leisz (dobro).

Once the mood is set on the opener and you are "there", you'll happily remain fixed in emotional space for both sides, not even breaking mood to get up and turn the record over. It's a performance that I swear only an AAA vinyl record can produce. And when it's finished you'll know you've been somewhere, heard and felt felt some things that will remain with you for quite some time and affect you for all time. "Look at Miss Ohio" has been running around my brain for days now!

Maybe Dave Rawlings was punking me when he called to say he was sending this heretofore available only on CD 2003 recording and sounding somewhat apologetic about the sound quality. Or maybe we hear it differently—not that it matters. This was recorded in three venues: their own Woodland Studios (built by the late Glenn Snoddy, inventor of the "fuzz tone" and a place with a rich sonic history), RCA Studio B (do you need an introduction?) and 'at home'. To my ears the recording is as perfect as the performances, so in my world this gets the rare 11 for music and sound. Maybe I'm wallowing. I guess I sure like to wallow! Nice gatefold packing, and "Tip on" jacket. A record you'll treasure.

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tparker14's picture

I returned 2 copies of this release before receiving one that didn't have 1. objectionable amounts of surface noise, even after cleaning, 2. significant edge warping, and 3. very off-center spindle holes. The album sounds great, though, now that I've got a good vinyl copy sorted out.

eugeneharrington's picture

My first copy of 'Soul Journey' had a short, light scratch on track 2 Side 1 that you could not feel with your finger but which reproduced as a continuous click when played. My replacement copy however is pretty much flawless.

Another problem that I and others had with this release was the presence of 'embedded' paper (on two tracks in my case) that defied all cleaning methods including ultrasonic. In the end I had to resort to a tooth pick to remove the paper particles but the audible scratch made that exercise academic, anyway. The paper particles caused very loud clicks on my copy.

There have been problems with 'Soul Journey' unfortunately but there are good copies out there, so persistence is required with this one. I played my replacement copy last night and it is flawless. I have to say that I had no off centre spindle holes either but the disc needed a cycle on my Disc Flatter and this resolved a slight edge warp.

The inner sleeve on 'Soul Journey' is a Printed Card variety? While the inner surfaces of the inner are smooth, nevertheless it would have been far better if the anti static QRP inner (MoFi type) had been used, just like on the current John Prine release. It would be more in keeping with what Welch and Rawlings are aiming for too, I imagine?

Fsonicsmith's picture

DR was punking you, alright. Gillian just gave an interview with NPR's Kyle Meredith in which she discussed the painstaking efforts that she and partner David Rawlings took to make this record the right way. If you don't mind my posting a link (after all, it's NPR), you can find it here
As to the post above, mine is flat, centered, but does have on track in which a few rotations of groove seem to have under-fill. My copy of The Harrow and the Harvest has one track where my stylus gets stuck despite trying to navigate it with three different cartridges (I have multiple arm wands for my VPI and two decks). So yeah, there are some problems, but what does play sounds incredible.

natebot's picture

Thanks for sharing the interview. I can't wait for the reissue of Revelator. That will be something else.

tparker14's picture

While my copy of "Harrow and the Harvest" was good, the problems I had getting a clean copy of "Soul Journey" are sadly typical of the kinds of pressings I've received in the past from QRP. I've never had as many warped LPs (or as noisy) as from them. The first copy of "SJ" had an edge warped that constantly threatened to launch the tonearm from its lead-in groove.

johnnyv's picture

I am glad that I did not wait fifteen years to buy this excellent album on vinyl. Gillian and David Rawlings should release the vinyl versions initially instead of waiting years to release the vinyl version. The one fellow above mentioned TIME (THE REVELATOR) hasn't been released on vinyl yet. That is from 2001!

Jampot's picture

All too often records that Mike thinks highly of are not available here in the UK (even though Amazon have them for digital download). I had to order the Startrek sound track direct from the States for instance.
However I'm pleased to report that both the Gillian Welch vinyl releases are available and Amazon delivered my copy of Soul Journey today. It has all the merits noted above and is in excellent fettle - no paper dust or static (which seem to plague Amazon purchases here), no blemishes and a crease free sleeve.
I'm pondering now whether to spring for The Harrow and the Harvest, having not heard anything by Gillian previously.

anomaly7's picture

Hi Michael,
If you listen to the 2nd track and then look at the groove with your USB microscope you'll see a large fluctuation in the groove spacing that doesn't correspond with the music but does correspond with a subsonic as well as audible background noise. Can you explain how that happens during the making of a master? This was found on all 5 copies that were examined as part of the record cleaner test done through the San Francisco Audiophile Society- Larry D will send you the pictures he took of the irregular groove wandering.

So, great recording, great sound, but kind of a funky cut master.
I Would love to hear your thoughts on the mechanical aspects that could produce that result.

Viva Hifi's picture

My copy of the "Soul Journey" LP was as wonderful musically and sonically as Mikey says. However, it had an imbedded foreign object that made song 2 skip. No amount of cleaning could get rid of it (it appeared to be a small piece of paper that got pressed right into the vinyl). I contacted Acony Records. Someone called back and offered to send me a replacement copy of the record (just the vinyl LP, not the cover or sleeve which was fine with me). Two days later the new copy arrived via priority mail and it is fine. I call this excellent customer service.

JD's picture

Interesting choice of disk cutting engineer. I don't think Setphen Marcussen has cut disks since the late 1980s.

Also, Ortofon VMS-80? Not a Neumann?

Marty65's picture

My copy from Amazon uk arrived today with the same issue on track 2.
I have just sent it back for another fingers crossed ;)