Gillian Welch – The Harrow & the Harvest

Has it really been eight years since her last album? Listening to The Harrow & the Harvest, Gillian Welch fans may wonder what the hell took so long. Which isn’t to say it’s bad. In fact, it may be her best offering since 2001’s Time (The Revelator).

But Welch and her partner David Rawlings have never made anything but great music together. As perfectly crafted as their writing, singing and playing is, there’s a lilting, timeless quality that almost comes off as effortless.

In 2009, Rawlings released the sensational but under-appreciated A Friend of a Friend as the Dave Rawlings Machine, and featuring a passel of guests, including, of course, Welch. Not surprisingly, much of it sounds like a Welch album, albeit a bit more worked up, with Rawlings taking the lead vocals and a few more chances (his song “Method Actor,” which includes a cover of “Cortez the Killer,” is a great visionary rant).

The Harrow & the Harvest has Welch in front and Rawlings quietly joining in to produce their signature interplay of close harmonies and guitars, augmented by a bit of banjo and harmonica, and the odd stomp and clap. The songs are studies in the weird old styles of country, folk and string band music of the ’20s and ’30s. “You know, some girls are bright as the morning, and some are blessed with a dark turn of mind,” Welch allows in one. A little later, she sings, “I can’t say your name without a crow flying by,” evoking that mysterious world of omens, spirits and spells.

A trio of tunes, “The Way It Will Be,” “The Way It Goes” and “The Way The Whole Thing Ends” seem to sum up the general tone of determinism and resignation that runs through the album. It’s music rooted in the Great Depression-era that sounds utterly appropriate for these current hard times. Or as Welch finally puts it down, “That’s the way the cornbread crumbles.”

Gillian Welch
The Harrow & the Harvest