Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review catch up: Gillian Welch - The Harvest and the Harrow

What do Jane's Addiction and Gillian Welch have in common? Apart from being awesome, their respective last full length releases of new material was in 2003. Welch recently said the delay was because she'd written a bunch of songs in that time, but didn't think they were strong enough to release. That tight quality control is reflected in The Harvest and the Harrow which features ten exquisite songs of Welch and partner David Rawlings at their best.

Musically, you know what you're getting here: bare bones acoustic folk/country but even in the sparest of musical settings, Welch's voice beguiles and fills the open space with such beauty and grace that it can make your heart stop for a second. There is a purity and expressiveness to her voice that is unforced and natural - no Idol hysterics to be found here. However, the compelling on this record is the focus of the lyrics - dark meditations on betrayal, love, temptation and the past. Welch is exploring adult complications here which hit you later in life - friends left behind, loss and the inevitable conclusion of bad decisions made in the past. However, Welch is not peddling nostalgia but rather reflection on where we lose our way.

The music ranges from jaunty folk (Scarlet Town, The Way It Goes) to a knee slapping hoedown (Six White Horses) but the general music palette is slow burn ballads which allow Welch to shine. The highlights include the bitter betrayal in The Way It Will Be, the tale of a man lost to progress in Hard Times and the aforementioned The Way It Goes, a kind of Appalachian folk equivalent to Walk on the Wild Side.

There is no change in direction Welch and Rawlings on this record, it's business as usual and if you're not on board with this style of music there will be nothing here to convert you. However, there is rarely weak moment on this album and if you ever loved Welch, this is easily her best album after Time (The Revelator).


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