So Moved, The Spirit Returns Anew
By David McGee


Kevin Welch
Music Road Records

The big question is, was it really 1990 when we first heard Kevin Welch on record? Twenty years ago? Really?

And then I ask: Is that all? Because when you hear Kevin Welch’s observations of the world he moves through, and his observations on the curious nature of men and women together; when you hear those rustic, acoustic-based arrangements that suddenly erupt into thunderstorms of electric guitar wailing and pounding, insistent drums; when you hear his dry, dusty voice, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t been around forever, an eternal, timeless spirit rising up out of the earth periodically to take the measure of a moment in time. The last time he did this, in 2007, he was accompanied by his buddies Kieran and Lucas Kane and Fats Kaplin, and the resulting Kane Welch Kaplan album, like the aggregate’s 2006 long player, Lost John Dean, was nothing less than one of the year’s finest recordings. But it was 2003 when last we heard from Welch alone, on Live Down Here On Earth. But all those songs play on, burrow into a listener’s soul and knock around in there for awhile, reminding the host body to be unafraid to feel—to laugh, to cry, to love—or to speak up when something’s amiss in the land.

But here he is in 2010, timeless as ever, writing exquisite, insightful memos to us from the bloodstream of life experience. A Patch of Blue Sky is a wondrous thing, marked by impeccable songcraft, beautifully restrained and deeply evocative musicianship, heartfelt singing and meaningful stories.

Kevin Welch, ‘Answer Me That,’ from A Patch of Blue Sky

I waited for a long time to write these songs, because I kept thinking that I would eventually figure out a lot of stuff and would then know what to say. I finally realized late one night I might not ever understand anything. I accepted that. It was a real relief. (from Kevin Welch’s liner notes at

Welch wrote the above words in explaining one of his most beautiful songs ever, “That’s How It Feels,” which starts off subdued and low-key, fingerpicked guitar and vocal, before the organ and drums enter, the former humming sacred tones, the latter punching through the soundscape, all of it a setup for the entrance of a mournful cello. Thus the backdrop for Welch’s musings about living so long you finally realize how little you understand about the whys and wherefores of stuff—“uneaten bread when bellies are empty/Unspoken words when a heart’s on the line/Untold stories that die with the keeper/That’s how it feels in this heart of mine…”—and the certainty of the world nevertheless continuing to turn. The idea of accepting his inability to fathom all that goes on around him informs more of Welch’s writing these days, but as in “That’s How It Feels,” this fact of life—the more you live, the less you know—is one he embraces as truth without letting it paralyze his progress towards unearthing the elusive answers to his existential worries. The title track is an overt declaration of this intention, jubilantly, triumphantly so, as it summons a gospel choir to wreck the house as the band stomps through, and Welch sings with increasing determination, “And as I go walkin’/I’m gonna keep the beat/I ain’t gonna give up/No, I ain’t gonna cry/Up above the clouds/Somewhere there’s a patch of blue sky.”  It’s fair to say Welch is emboldened in this philosophy by what he witnessed while in Australia in early 2009, when floods and fire were wreaking death and destruction in Queensland. Touched by the Aussies’ resilience, faith and samaritanism, Welch penned “The Great Emancipation,” which, despite its roaring, gospel-tinged sections, evokes Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More,” especially in the piano lines discreetly weaving through the track. “To me it’s all the same,” he sings in the closing verse, “I need no explanation,” a point of equanimity he and we have arrived at because Welch has seen how “blood runs deep, souls run deeper/They rise as high as heaven above.” Here is a case in which there’s no need to know all the answers, or even to question God’s mercy, because the truth is right before your eyes, and in your heart. So it goes in “Marysville,” a country-inflected thumper relating the story of deliberately set fires in Marysville, a town northeast of Melbourne, an episode that partly informs “The Great Emancipation” but is dealt with directly here. Welch may still sport hair hanging below his shoulders, but a hippie he ain’t—he doesn’t read anything cosmic into the brutal blaze that “took one out of every five"; humanist, even optimist,. is a better fit—he understands the greater import of the tragedy’s aftermath: “There’s only one measure of a woman and a ma/When trouble’s all around how tall do you stand/What the devil burns down we will all rebuild/Rise up rise up Marysville,” and at the end, this simple truth, the truth of Kevin Welch, the truth of A Patch of Blue Sky: “I am a stranger wherever I go/But I see what I see, and I know what I know.”

Making A Patch of Blue Sky: interview with Kevin Welch

This doesn’t even take into account his aching, poignant songs centered on love and loneliness: “New Widow’s Dream,” co-written with his son Dustin, is a quiet, fingerpicked guitar-and-cello beauty describing a young widow’s vivid, inscrutable visions of her lost love returning to her, along with a mysterious gypsy wagon playing a haunting melody. The tune has an ancient, Appalachian sound, to which Welch responds with an affecting, sensitive vocal that falls into a conspiratorial near-whisper at telling moments in the narrative. It could hardly be a more moving performance, but he gives himself a run for the money in that department with the next song, “Midnight and Noon.” This slow, deliberate country heartbreaker, featuring some tasty Fats Kaplin dobro and Dustin Welch’s stark, steady banjo plunking (plus a chilling harmony vocal by Sally Allen), recounts the persistent pain of a lost love, and the abiding delusion of its imminent return—a theme the artist explores further immediately thereafter in the bluesy ballad “Long Gone Dream,” the finale of a trifecta of numbers sifting through the ashes of love’s demise, this time without lingering—“I ain’t ever comin’ back/There’s no sense hopin’/It’s just another long gone dream,” Welch moans in the chorus with emphatic resolve.

Thus the current report from one of our most astute chroniclers of the human condition, that eternal, timeless spirit rising up out of the earth periodically to take the measure of a moment in time. A Patch of Blue Sky—even the title suggests optimism aborning—is Kevin Welch at the top of his form. To quote from his own song, that’s how it feels in this heart of mine.

Kevin Welch’s A Patch of Blue is available at

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