They began talking about “Hard Times,” eagerly bouncing ideas off each other as if they were right back to sketching out the song for the first time. Not so much debating but weighing the merits of the song’s small machinery — clarifying the narrative, making the language more evocative.
“We like qualifiers,” Rawlings said, moving his hands as if he were fitting puzzle pieces into place. “There was the moment of thinking about a hard-times song and then coming up with ‘Hard times aren’t gonna rule my mind.’ And then going, ‘No more.’ And then going, ‘OK, this is now something that I understand and know how to express or deal with.’”
“Yeah, it almost relates to that moment of transformation or redemption, or some switch gets flipped,” Welch came in, lively. “Someone has said to me before that songs — there has to be a reason for them. They’re kind of about, you know, pinnacle moments. Precise moments.” She gave an example: “ ‘One more dollar, and I’m going home.’ These help us focus on this transformative moment.”Redemption and optimism are subjects that I find difficult to approach, especially now, considering not only the masses of people dying but also the way lives have become mere numbers on a constantly ascending chart. Considering that the country itself might not be worthy of redemption. Considering, of course, that with every reason for optimism I’ve found, there is a new, darker, more cynical corner unearthed.
But now I found myself thinking about the arcs of redemption that flow through the duo’s songs. How gentle they are to their characters, their landscapes. Even when some might think they don’t deserve it. Throughout their career — even in some of “The Lost Songs” and the songs they chose on “All the Good Times,” there’s some relief at the end of the darkness. In their version of Dylan’s “Abandoned Love,” the two wring all the anguish out of the song’s first seven verses before patiently, gently, laying out the final verse: the one where Dylan asks to feel the love of his wife just one more time before he abandons their relationship. It’s hopeful — the kind of ending to a song where you know the answer was yes, just by how it is sung. It is the rigorous truth-telling that the two excel in: One cannot be redeemed without a clear articulation of why redemption is needed. And that’s the part that some other singers might gloss over. But Welch and Rawlings, as writers, dig their hands into the mess of a life that is worthwhile despite its messiness (emphasis added).