Ruston Kelly puts an atmospheric, modern spin on one of the most mournful ballads of the last century with his just-released version of the Carter Family’s “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow.” Shortening the title to “Weeping Willow,” Kelly’s rendition of the historic tune replaces the classic mountain-bred instrumentation and three-part harmony of the 1927 original with a more dirge-like pace, adding steel guitar, spare yet dramatic drum beats, and synthesized effects to the singer’s aching vocal performance.
“Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow” was the first of four tracks recorded by the Carter Family on August 1st, 1927, for the Victor Talking Machine company (soon to become the RCA-Victor record label), led by pioneering producer, talent scout, and businessman Ralph S. Peer. Beginning with a session featuring Ernest V. “Pop” Stoneman on July 25th, the two-week-long “Bristol Sessions” in downtown Bristol, Tennessee, have since come to be regarded as the “Big Bang of Country Music,” with the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers emerging as the true superstars among the 19 acts who recorded during that time period. Kelly recorded his version of the song on a stormy night while staying at the Carters’ ancestral home in Virginia.
“To say I’ve been influenced by the Carter Family is an understatement,” notes Kelly in a statement, adding he was forever changed after hearing those first recordings. “Maybelle Carter remains one of my greatest musical influences. Recently, her grandson and my good friend, John Carter Cash, encouraged me to take some alone time out at his ‘grandparents’ place’ in Virginia. He was, of course, referring to the house the Carters lived in in the Forties and that Johnny Cash and June Carter ended up keeping in their family. Tucked deep into Poor Valley, on the side of Clinch Mountain, I spent a week in solitude, playing guitar by the creek, walking barefoot on the same worn paths these heroes of mine had.”
Kelly continues to tour in support of his Dying Star LP, with a pair of Chicago appearances on Saturday. He’ll take part in the Lollapalooza festival then join the Revivalists for an aftershow later that night at the Vic Theater.