The Harrow and The Harvest

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.

 

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