Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest (Acony)

It’s been eight years since Gillian Welch last released an album. That was 2003’s Soul Journey. So where has she been all these years? Well, aside from making guest appearances on other artist’s albums, including partner David Rawlings’ own solo effort, it sounds like she’s been going back in time.

Welch’s music has always sounded like it sprang from a long-forgotten shack deep in the Appalachian Mountains, but the stripped back sound Welch and Rawlings achieve here is their most rustic yet.

The only musicians who appear on The Harrow & The Harvest are Welch and Rawlings. Both sing and play guitar, banjo and harmonica. It was recorded in a studio in Nashville, but could have easily been cut in their living room.

As you would expect, the singing and playing on this record is exquisite. And the production, by Rawlings, such as it is, is flawless. Song-wise, most of the songs have a dark edge to them. Like the best Appalachian tunes, there’s plenty of heartbreak, loneliness, death and abuse. Welch, who wrote all 10 songs has spent a lot of time on her lyrics…telling poignant stories and describing desperate characters. My favourite is the heroine in The Way It Goes, who starts the song “with a needle in her arm” and then “she was busted broken flat, had to sell her pussycat”.

While it’s been a long time since Welch released an album of her own, it seems her legacy has only grown stronger over the years. Those fans who have been waiting patiently will find plenty to enjoy here. The long wait was worth it.

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to The Way It Goes from The Harrow & The Harvest