Gillian Welch fans have seen their wish come true — she finally released her first album since 2003. Some might even wonder what they wished for, especially if they were expecting a repeat of 2003’s Soul Journey.
There isn’t a band. There aren't any electric guitars. There isn't anything to compare to 2003.
Instead, The Harrow and the Harvest returns Welch and musical partner David Rawlings to their earliest folk roots.
So while Welch’s music has always felt firmly entrenched in sun-dappled Americana, particularly the American South, The Harrow and the Harvest seems to be from somewhere else. It might even be from the hidden back roads of Tennessee and American folk.
The Harrow and the Harvest is definitely her darkest work, and also the most raw.
Neither Welch nor Rawlings is from the South or Appalachia, but you’d never know it. Welch grew up in California (Hollywood, even), where her parents did the music for The Carol Burnett Show.
She then met Rawlings while both were attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston. And then they eventually moved to Nashville as a professional duo to be closer to the music and the influences that have shaped their music.
For The Harrow and the Harvest, Welch and Rawlings opted to go with an all-acoustic set framing up songs that are bare and bittersweet, sketched out with his guitar and her voice. The result is a graceful CD that is intuitive, delicate and complex.
These songs aren't full of joy. But then again, they aren’t meant to be. The theme, if there is one, is about knowing when it’s time to move on and let go of the past. You can hear it most prominently in the song The Way It Goes. Scarlet Town is also dark, bleak. But Six White Horses does ring in with banjo and harmonica for good measure. Those are the three to keep.
Welch and Rawlings sound as resilient as ever. So where were they between this CD and the last? Mostly, they were touring, writing, and appearing on other people’s records.
They also released A Friend Of A Friend under the band name Dave Rawlings Machine. It sounds very much like a Welch album, with the bulk of the harmonies switching to the tuneful Rawlings. Seek it out if you're longing for that older sound. It's worth it.
The Harrow And The Harvest By Gillian Welch Sings In With A 7.7 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
It’s no wonder to me why Welch has been called a national treasure. She seems disinterested in commercial success and more focused on the purity and honesty of her music. Those are the singers, musicians, and songwriters to watch. Even if they never have a commercial windfall, you can bank on the fact that someone else will eventually credit them for one.
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings are currently on a U.S. tour, which will culminate with a Dec. 1 show back in their adopted hometown of Nashville as they play the celebrated Ryman Auditorium. You can find The Harrow and the Harvest on iTunes. The CD is also readily available at Barnes & Noble or download The Harrow and the Harvest from Amazon.