Melbourne duo The Weeping Willows started this year by winning a Golden Guitar for Instrumental of the Year. It came from one of the eight nominations they have garnered across two albums, Before Darkness Comes A-Callin’ and Till the North Wind Blows.
The band – Laura Coates and Andrew Wrigglesworth – have created a body of work which makes the most of them being a duo, able to play off each other in such a way that each can display their skills at their best, and which also has a sound that is now identifiably theirs. Increasingly, they have leant into the gothic side of alt country/Americana, and the richness of Coates’s voice, in particular, is perfect for the mystery and drama that’s become part of their songwriting. Earlier this year they released the single ‘Black Crow’, and it appears on and set the tone for their new EP, Southern Gothic, which is a collection of songs written by others and also an original instrumental track that opens the EP.
It is because The Weeping Willows have developed such a strong musical identity that the songs on this EP sound like their own, even though they were originally recorded by some legendary artists. ‘Hangman (The Gallows Tree), which features Nick Charles, is draws from Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of the song. ‘C.C. Rider’ is a Ma Rainey tune that has been recorded by Elvis Presley as well as Old Crow Medicine Show, and ‘Long Black Veil’ is from the canon of Lefty Frizzell. Completing the collection – which is pretty much album length – is the Blind Lemon Jefferson song ‘One Kind Favour (See That My Grave is Kept Clean)’ and Walt Aldridge’s ‘Ain’t No Ash Will Burn’.
In the hands of The Weeping Willows these songs form a storybook – a tale of heartbreak not due to failed romances but to the difficulties and disconnections of life. Perhaps the most affecting track is ‘Long Black Veil’ (although ‘Ain’t No Ash Will Burn’ isn’t far behind, when Coates lays herself bare and Wrigglesworth’s vocals in response are not disaffected so much as resigned and weary. In each song, these two find a way to complement, balance and challenge each other, and what makes this EP so rewarding – apart from the musicality on display – is hearing what comes from two artists who implicitly understand each other. Rather than trying to establish what each is contributing they have more space to go to the core of a song and explore what’s there. That’s why the songs they didn’t write on this album sound so authentically theirs – they made them so.
While the core of the recording is Coates and Wrigglesworth, there are high-calibre contributions from Luke Moller (Hayes Carll, Kasey Chambers) on fiddle and mandolin, James Church (Montgomery Church) on dobro, and David Piltch (Willie Nelson, Don Henley) on upright bass. Most of the EP was tracked, engineered and mixed by Roger Bergodaz (Raised By Eagles). Its release comes ahead of the band’s third studio album, due for release next year.