Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest [Album Review]

by oz on July 5, 2011

I regret not becoming a Gillian Welch fan before this Independence Day weekend. I purchased Time (The Revelator) years ago and never made it through a complete spin. If digital albums could collect dust, that thing would be covered in cobwebs. At the coincidental urging of two friends last week, I finally decided to give Gillian her do. I downloaded Soul Journey and her latest album The Harrow & The Harvest via eMusic and listened to little else this holiday weekend.

The Harrow & The Harvest is a triumphant breakout from Gillian’s near-eight years of writer’s block.  She’s accompanied by long-time partner David Rawlings – the two met at Boston’s Berklee College of Music in before moving to Nashville together in ’92. This album abandons any trace of the full band sound found on Soul Journey, which featured drums and electric guitar, and instead plucks along with the spotlight on Welch’s songwriting, Rawlings’ masterful guitar work, and their vocals that harmonize in lockstep throughout. And while Gillian’s songs are outstanding in their own right, what’s more amazing is the synthesis of these two incredible musicians and their ability to take seemingly simple folk arrangements and turn them into something awe-inspiring.

Gillian Welch has a penchant for sad songs, but the dreariness is less palpable because they exist in another time and place.  Her old-timey sound belongs in rustic, romantic Americana – The Dust Bowl, the hills of Appalachia, or some other scene that plays out in a John Steinbeck novel. I dove headlong into this album on the cusp of Independence Day when American history was top of mind. The house was quiet and the view outside my window in suburban Atlanta was of Kennesaw Mountain, a national park and historic Civil War battleground. As the thunder clowds rolled in and the driving rain slapped against the windows of my house in waves, the timing of this music discovery felt serendipitous.

While I credit two friends for pushing me to listen to Gillian, Blind Pilot and The Deep Dark Woods also deserve some credit. Blind Pilot have an amazing cover of “Look At Miss Ohio” from their iTunes Session EP and The Deep Dark Woods performed a rendition of the traditional song “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor” in our last Live Session with them. Both of these songs are found on Welch’s Soul Journey album.

Gillian Welch is touring in support of The Harrow & The Harvest. Check out her site for dates. And if you didn’t believe me about the guitar-work by David Rawlings, well just watch the video below. He makes the concept of “band” obsolete.


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Buzzman3535 July 5, 2011 at 3:32 pm

picked up the new GW cd yesterday and haven’t had a chance to give it a spin yet. greatly lookin forward to it. Saw her up in Petaluma, CA a few weeks ago and it was a really fun concert. As good live (or better) than the CDs.

However, for anyone else intersted in GW I would actually recommend the Time album as the best place to start. Of the 4 previous releases, I think its by far the strongest.

Some rumors of all her stuff being re-released on vinyl soon….Time would definitely be my first buy on that format.

Anna Baker July 6, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Gillian Welch has an amazing voice! I saw her a couple years ago when she opened for Bright Eyes. If you like this artist, check out Belle, who just released her debut album “Never Too Late”…I think they sound quite similar! Listen for free!!

Paula Millers July 6, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Amazing voice! keep do it the best!

Woody July 7, 2011 at 1:52 pm

This album is a peach. They are an American treasure.

Beto Byram July 8, 2011 at 12:53 am

Just saw Gillian and David last night kicking off their tour in support of The Harrow & the Harvest. I’ve seen them a number of times and they just continue to demonstrate absolute professionalism, incredible musicianship, and the humility and presence to show that they are really there to play for us. This is what makes their shows such a rewarding experience. I am blessed. . . . .

Are You Serious? July 8, 2011 at 3:10 pm

just checked out the belle recomendation, anna, and.. well.. not even close.

Vanessa July 9, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Did you guys ever catch those two when they played at the Abbey several years ago?

Vanessa July 11, 2011 at 9:04 pm

if you wanna see how truly cool this couple is, check out the making of the packaging for their album cover:

Paper cup machine coimbatore July 16, 2011 at 6:50 am

The voice is fabulous. Nice post.

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