Release Date: Jun 28, 2011
Record label: Acony Records
There's always a moment on Gillian Welch records when she reminds you that her old-timey music doesn't live in the past. On her fifth album - and first since 2003 - the moment comes on "Silver Dagger," which borrows the title and bloodlust of a traditional ballad popularized by Joan Baez in 1960, but it gets wistful about the good old days of "nineteen-hundred and ninety-nine. " Welch's partner, David Rawlings, stepping back from his nominal star turn with Dave Rawlings Machine, continues as America's most low-key guitar hero; his sparkling lines and harmonies cling to Welch's rich vocals (which infused the Decemberists' recent The King Is Dead) like smoke plumes.
GILLIAN WELCH plays the Phoenix July 25. See listing. Rating: NNNNN It took Nashville's Gillian Welch and musical partner Dave Rawlings eight years to make their deeply rewarding fifth album, yet it sounds anything but laboured, fussy or obsessed over. That's likely because, after years of unsatisfying results, most of the 10 songs came in a welcome creative burst that began just this past October.
The title -- The Harrow & the Harvest, Gillian Welch's first album of new material in eight years -- reflects a creative drought: she and David Rawlings simply weren't writing songs they liked. The music is steeped in the early country, bluegrass, and Appalachian mountain traditions that are her trademark --though it engages rock and roll and blues motifs albeit acoustically--while the melodies and lyrics reflect the darkness and melancholy of Gothic Americana. Produced by Rawlings, this set returns to the sparse instrumentation of her earliest recordings: guitars, banjos, harmonica, and hand-and-knee slaps.
Judging by the excited postings of fans on her website, this new album by American roots/folk songwriter Gillian Welch, her first since 2003’s Soul Journey, has been keenly anticipated. And they have been rewarded by a soulful, dark, lyrical album that touches on familiar themes – temptation, tragedy and loss. With songwriting partner David Rawlings, Welch presents 10 tracks that are stripped down instrumentally, most songs relying solely on their acoustic guitars ornamented by Rawlings’ sublime fingerpicking.
Once people fall for Gillian Welch’s music, they tend to fall hard. A fierce brand of loyalty establishes itself not so much around how or why Welch and partner David Rawlings may be better than other performers in the country/folk/roots/old-time/Americana scenes, but rather around more insular questions regarding the comparative merits of particular Welch albums. It’s the kind of debate that often plays itself out while waiting for a favorite artist to release new material and, while the Dave Rawlings Machine released A Friend of a Friend (an album on which Welch appeared) in 2009, it’s been eight long years since Welch’s last.
“Some girls are bright as the morning, some girls are blessed with a dark turn ofmind” If you’re an artist who plays music that sounds as if could have been written a century ago, what difference does it make if you take eight years between albums? No difference at all if you’re Gillian Welch. Her loyal fans’ appetites were whetted last year when Welch and her musical partner David Rawlings released A Friend of A Friend under the mantle of Dave Rawlings Machine. Sounding much like a Welch album—maybe the missing link between her Soul Journey and Time (The Revelator), A Friend of A Friend was a hopeful indication of good things to come.
This album has been a very long time coming. Gillian Welch released her last set, Soul Journey, in 2003, just a year after the soundtrack album for O Brother, Where Art Thou? (in which she appeared alongside Alison Krauss) won a Grammy. She became a country/folk celebrity, and yet for eight years there has been no follow-up, apparently because she was unhappy with her material.
When an artist takes a long time to make a record, it’s hard to avoid thinking about said periods of time when the album's eventual release comes around. It’s hard to think of Chinese Democracy for instance, without recalling the tall tales that surrounded Axl Rose for many a year before the dismal disappointment of the LP was revealed. With Gillian Welch, the gap of eight years since Soul Journey isn’t quite as mysterious, but it’s still rather maddening.
DOLLY PARTON “Better Day” (Dolly Records/Warner Music Nashville) Not quite halfway into “Better Day,” Dolly Parton’s resolutely cheery new album, there’s a vow of principle called “Country Is as Country Does,” all two-step rhythm and honky-tonk churn. This song, written with Mac Davis, lays out a string of contrasting pairs — mansion versus double-wide trailer, champagne versus chocolate milk — while neatly claiming dominion over it all. “Wherever I am, then that’s where I belong,” Ms.
Long wait turns up a melancholy marvel. Ninian Dunnett 2011 Ending an eight-year recording break that set in soon after Gillian Welch’s profile-boosting appearance in O Brother, Where Art thou?, The Harrow and the Harvest marks a lovely return. Simplicity is often the hardest thing to achieve, and it’s a challenge this wistful singer-songwriter has always embraced.
As Neil Young continues to mine his archives, the live recordings from 1984-85 that make up A Treasure prove essential to the series. With support from Geffen Records waning, Young retaliated with a crack country outfit in the International Harvesters and dug his boots into the outlaw sound with conviction. "Are You Ready for the Country" cuts like the challenge it was intended to be, while "Bound for Glory" couples Young's warble with supple fiddle and slicing steel that rolls throughout.
It wasn’t hard to be skeptical of Gillian Welch in the 1990s, when she entered a crowded field of female Americana singers with distinctive voices and intensely confessional lyrics. Emmylou Harris released her comeback, Wrecking Ball, 1996, a year before Welch’s debut album, and Lucinda Williams finally finished her long-awaited opus Car Wheels on a Gravel Road in 1998. Iris DeMent was still on a run of grittily emotional albums, and Louisville’s Freakwater were pacing the margins and delivering stark ruminations in high-flying harmonies.