Ruston Kelly pays tribute to the Carter Family on “Weeping Willow”

    He recorded his cover of their 1920s classic in the Carters’ family home.

    Ruston Kelly Weeping Willow
    Ruston Kelly. Image: Alexa King

    It has been a quiet 2019 for Ruston Kelly. Yesterday, he returned with “Weeping Willow,” a Carter Family cover that Kelly recorded in the very home the Carters lived in.

    Kelly released the song last August to mark the 92nd anniversary of the Carter Family’s original song, “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow.” His mid-tempo rendition is imbued with blistering faith, opening with a brief sample of a woman proselytizing of “a day in August I’ll never forget”.

    Kelly’s gospel-like delivery and reverb-soaked synths then creep in, making for a stark contrast to the original’s steady but fluent auto-harp and yodel-like vocals. “My heart is sad and I’m in sorrow / For the only one I love / When shall I see him, oh, no, never / ’Til I meet him in heaven above,” he proclaims over a tide of steel guitar and pompous drum beats.

    How did Kelly end up recording the track on a stormy night in the living room of the Carters’ family home, where he stayed alone for a week? The answer lies in Maybelle Carter, whom Kelly named in a statement as one of his “greatest musical influences,” and her grandson John Carter Cash.

    Cash, who is a friend of Kelly’s, “encouraged [Kelly] to take some alone time out at his grandfather’s place in Virginia,” he explained. “He was of course referring to the house the Carters lived in the ’40s and that Johnny Cash and June Carter ended up keeping in the family.”

    “I went there on a personal Mecca and left profoundly moved and grateful for the peace and spirit the family instilled there,” Kelly said of the experience. Listen to “Weeping Willow” here: