Gillian Welch –  The Harrow & The Harvest Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest

Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest

It took Gillian Welch eight years to release her new album The Harrow & The Harvest and she attributes the delay to writer’s block, waiting to come across the right set of songs, and recording in the right moment. Ironically, trying to write a review of this album has had the same effect on myself. For a musician that has perfected her sound from the very first moment she recorded a single note, every album released just fits wonderfully into that mold. With each new album there is no reinventing, no surprises… only a familiar comfort. Every song is utterly personal yet accessible, instantly recognizable although new. It’s a difficult experience to describe without just saying,“this album is just as good as anything Gillian Welch has ever done,”and leaving it at that. The songs are fantastic. The craftsmanship and musicianship are second-to-none. But again, with Gillian Welch, that comes with the territory.

Gillian Welch and longtime collaborator David Rawlings rarely resort to other formulas than rhythm guitar with lead guitar/banjo, but The Harrow & The Harvest utilizes only that combination for its entirety. Also, unlike any of their previous records, it was recorded (impressively) completely live in the studio. There are no overdubs, nothing added after the fact. This is absolutely a testament to how well these two work together: the added intricacies, the perfect timing, the intuition and anticipation are superb, and as always the harmonies are hauntingly beautiful. Showcasing these aspects to their fullest is the track “The Way It Goes” which has some of the most extraordinary lead guitar and solo work heard in a long time. That is not something one often says when speaking of a folk music record, but the grace and fluidity in which it’s executed make it the perfect accompaniment to this song, and a fantastic example of this duo’s capabilities.

True to form, all of the songs are heavily influenced, both musically and lyrically, by the darker side of folk music. Themes of murder and death, gambling, adultery and loss are all at the forefront. For this reason, while The Harrow & The Harvest is an example of an artist at their finest, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy listen. Its’ depressing, confessional-type themes set to slow-tempo, eerie folk music can feel overwhelming at times. “Tennessee” for example, is the most harrowing track on the album. With lyrics like “I kissed you ‘cuz I’ve never been an angel; I learned to say Hosanna’s on my knees,” “I had no desire to be a child of sin, then you went and pressed your whiskers to my cheek,” and finally “Now I tried drinking rye and gambling; dancing with damnation is a ball; but of all the little ways I’ve found to hurt myself; well you might be my favorite one of all.” It’s disturbing and personal, and yet beautiful… but not something you can listen to at any random moment. Befitting the theme and feel of the record, it’s best taken in with a stiff drink and a dark room.

1. Scarlet Town
2. Dark Turn Of Mind
3. The Way It Will Be
4. The Way It Goes
5. Tennessee
6. Down Along The Dixie Line
7. Six White Horses
8. Hard Times
9. Silver Dagger
10. The Way The Whole Thing Ends

Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest, reviewed by Daniel G on 2011-09-09T11:44:49-07:00 rating 4.2 out of 5

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