This is David Rawlings’ third album under his own name, or that of The Dave Rawlings Machine. But really, this can easily be considered a Rawlings/Welch album, as Rawlings’ long-time partner Gillian Welch co-writes half five of the album’s ten songs, and sings and plays on all of them.
It’s been six long years since Gillian Welch released her most recent album, The Harrow And The Harvest, so fans will be curious to see if David Rawlings’ latest will satisfy their need for new music from the duo.
As soon as one hears the first few seconds of Midnight Train, Poor David’s Almanack’s opening track, with its intertwined acoustic guitars and close harmonies between Rawlings and Welch, fans will breathe a sigh relief, knowing that they are in for a dose of classic Rawlings/Welch goodness.
Like most of the Rawlings/Welch catalogue, the song sounds timeless….it could have been written a hundred years ago or yesterday. Its simplicity belies the artistry that surrounds it. Along with the heartfelt vocals, we get wonderfully tasty guitar fills and runs between the verses and a lovely fiddle solo. Meanwhile Rawlings sings, “the little wheels and the great big wheels turn all night long”.
Along with Welch, Rawlings is joined by a veritable all-star cast of supporting musicians including Griffin and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Ketch Secor, Critter Fuqua and Willie Watson of Old Crow Medicine Show, Paul Kowart of The Punch Brothers and fiddle player Brittany Haas.
Despite the impressive cast of characters, the production is spare and unobtrusive, leaving plenty of space for Rawlings’ fine guitar picking and Haas’ fiddle.
One song that stands out is Cumberland Gap, which sounds and feels much like Neil Young’s Ohio. I was tempted to sing, “tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming” as the tune started up. But rather than depict the events of Kent State in 1970, this song goes back a two hundred years or so as pioneers were finding their way West via the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky, toting, as Rawlings sings, their “trusty flint-lock”.
The mood shifts from solemn, hymn-like ballads such as Lindsey Button, the story of a “pretty young girl who comes down from the mountains…a long time ago”, and Put ‘Em Up Solid, a slow, gospel-folk ode that closes the album, to upbeat, rollicking hoedowns such as Money Is The Meat In The Coconut…a monkey married a baboon…and Yup, a good-natured, lazy romp about a man, the devil and his feisty wife, complete with a singing saw.
Throughout it all Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch blend their voices in perfect, high-lonesome harmony, giving fans exactly what they want, no matter what they call it.