Release Date: Sep 18, 2015
Record label: Acony Records
From its start, it wasn’t very clear if the Dave Rawlings Machine was meant to be a serious endeavor. The name dropped onto the Americana scene rather unceremoniously while fans of Gillian Welch and her musical partner David Rawlings were patiently awaiting a follow-up to 2003’s acclaimed release Soul Journey. A few lucky west coast concertgoers got to see this band’s first incarnation play a handful of shows.
Six years since A Friend Of A Friend, Nashville Obsolete is the second Dave Rawlings Machine instalment in a nearly two decade-long partnership with Gillian Welch that has, of course, mostly seen Welch take the lead while Rawlings sticks to guitar and immaculate backup vocals. The Dave Rawlings Machine project shakes things up a bit, with Rawlings' vocals grittier up front and with the input of four other players: Punch Brothers' Paul Kowert on bass, label mate Willie Watson on guitar and backup vocals and guest appearances by Brittany Haas (fiddle) and Jordan Tice (mandolin). You're gonna feel like you've heard it before (I was singing along to the "Whoa" refrain of opener "The Weekend" by the second listen) because it borrows liberally from the agreed-upon master, Dylan, and everyone's favourite kooky uncle.
Nashville Obsolete is the second solo outing for ace guitarist and producer David Rawlings, who for nearly two decades has shared the load with creative partner Gillian Welch to become one of folk and country music's most celebrated duos. Like 2009's Friend of a Friend, this seven-song mini-album is billed under the Dave Rawlings Machine banner and features a small ensemble that sees Rawlings and Welch swapping roles in what has become their familiar format. His reedy tenor voice that usually melts so effortlessly with Welch's takes the lead here on a set of melancholic songs that channel tones of Bob Dylan and Neil Young through the Dust Bowl filter that has become his bailiwick.
Not one to rush, this is the second album from Dave Rawlings Machine (his first solo outing, A Friend Of A Friend, was released in 2009). Both have been issued through Acony, the label he formed with Gillian Welch in 2001. Rawlings emerges from his usual behind-the-scenes role with considerable originality and quiet authority on an album of entirely original songs.
His second solo jaunt out of the shadow of creative partner Gillian Welch finds Dave Rawlings in some unexpected moods. Laconic and mischievous we expect, but the slow narratives at the heart of Nashville Obsolete carry a bitter taste. Pilgrim comes with the kind of sneer Dylan served up on Like a Rolling Stone and The Trip is a world-weary, 11-minute meander (“What’s a bullet hole or two between friends?”).