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"A two-piece band called Gillian Welch" releases its first new album since 2003
June 30, 2011 5:53 PM   Subscribe

Singer-songwriter Gillian Welch has released her first new album in eight years, The Harrow and the Harvest. Welch, who writes, plays, and tours with her partner David Rawlings, combines multiple influences that extend well beyond the borders of Appalachian folk, bluegrass, and Americana, to what Alec Wilkinson has called "at once innovative and obliquely reminiscent of past rural forms" in his 2004 New Yorker profile.

Born in New York and raised in Los Angeles and educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the Berklee School of Music in Boston, MA, she has collaborated with David Rawlings since 1992, writing and playing with his band, the Dave Rawlings Machine, on a 2009 release. (Though they have always been billed under one name, never as a duo, their process is deeply collaborative.) (Previously).
posted by liketitanic (41 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yay! I've been listening to this and it's pretty great.
posted by danb at 5:56 PM on June 30, 2011


I've been listening to it non-stop for the last couple of days.

Gillian Welch is amazing. I saw her once in San Francisco, completely by accident. She brough Linda Ronstadt on stage to do a few songs. If the Lord had struck me down then and there I would have considered that I went out at the top.
posted by Kattullus at 5:58 PM on June 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have been waiting for a good version of "The Way It Will Be" for 7 years! That song haunted me.
posted by liketitanic at 5:58 PM on June 30, 2011


Rawlings is an amazing musician. Literally made my hairs stand on end when I saw them live (Welch is awesome, too, but I feel Rawlings's qualities are less apparent on recordings than Welch's).
posted by AwkwardPause at 6:26 PM on June 30, 2011


I'm glad they've swapped roles back again. Rawlings is an absolutely brilliant harmony singer — honestly, I think the main reason I like Gillian Welch so much is because of those harmonies, though she's no slouch either — but I never really warmed to the stuff where he was singing lead.

(And on that note: is that a double tracked vocal on track 3? Or are they just singing in unison? Heresy either way! I like it!)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:30 PM on June 30, 2011


They both sing the same part on The Way It Will Be, presumably no double-tracking involved. See the live version.

I can't tell if this album is heavier on the rigid genre studies than were previous ones or if my own tastes have just changed in the intervening eight years, but I've listened to the whole thing quite a few times this week and feel like she and Rawlings cross over into corny Americana-pastiche more often than not, in a way they've largely been able to avoid previously.

Of course, the cheesiest track on it (it's about a man who sings songs to his mule—his mule is named Bessie—like, actually) is also the prettiest, and I kind of can't stop listening to it. So point Welch, I guess, though I think I'm always going to want to like this album more than I actually do.
posted by wreckingball at 6:41 PM on June 30, 2011


I never really warmed to the stuff where he was singing lead.

His customary "less in the spotlight" role in the duo leads to that wonderful moment in live shows where Gillian says, "Now we're gonna make Dave sing one." One of my most favorite boots is a compilation of those numbers, from a grand "Diamond Joe" to a truly stupendous, plaintive "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:50 PM on June 30, 2011


I have been working super long hours the past few days, and unable to make it to the record store to pick this up. Grrrrrrr. I fucking love the musing of Welch/Rawlings SO much.
posted by mollymayhem at 6:51 PM on June 30, 2011


I listed to this last night, whilst drifting off to sleep. Bought it and downloaded it this morning. This is such a stunningly beautiful piece of work. I had always sort of appreciated them from a distance but this is the real shit, as my daughter would say. A lot of soul.

One question. . .on Tennessee, is the start of the chorus in the form of lyrics, or just sort of "lie lie lie lie, lie lie lie lee. . .?" Hard to tell. But it is easily my favorite on the album.
posted by Danf at 7:01 PM on June 30, 2011


This is good. Good news!
posted by OmieWise at 7:03 PM on June 30, 2011


I've only listened to it a couple of times so far. Going on a road trip this weekend, I'm make sure to load it onto the car's USB key for the ride. I was disappointed by Soul Journey but this seems like a return to form, closer to Revival in sound.
posted by octothorpe at 7:06 PM on June 30, 2011


Danf, as far as I can tell it's just "lie la lie"-ing. That one is my favorite on the album too, though!
posted by danb at 7:08 PM on June 30, 2011


Yes, it's really lovely -- and W+R have always seemed to have a strong sense of quality control. I didn't know the long gap between records was on account of their not being satisfied with what they were writing, but I sure as shit wish many, many other bands would adopt this system of, in times of meh material, just not putting out records.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:09 PM on June 30, 2011


… closer to Revival in sound.

Yes, it definitely is that.
posted by wreckingball at 7:15 PM on June 30, 2011


I know what you mean, wreckingball.

But then, most of the tracks on their first two albums could be described as "rigid genre studies" if you felt like being uncharitable. I suspect it's just that those older songs feel inevitable and right because they're so familiar. But there were definitely people at the time who felt like they were corny Americana-pastiche. (I remember reading an interview with... one of the members of Wilco, I think ...where he mocked Welch pretty savagely for singing about being a coal miner.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:17 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the luckiest moments in my life was when I got a call of "Im sick, can you run the board tonight?" and I get to the club and it's Gillian Welch on the bill.

Warm, friendly, very professional, then I heard the music.

Utterly, utterly sold. I'm half hoping, and half worried, that it'll be better than Time (the Revelator)
posted by eriko at 7:17 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyway, after Time and Soul Journey I'll admit I was hoping for more changes in style, and it's definitely a let-down on that front. But I'm not yet convinced that it's bad. Gimme a few more listens. :)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:19 PM on June 30, 2011


I've been dreaming of this album for so long.
posted by wg at 7:32 PM on June 30, 2011


I'm going to see her and Rawlings on July 20th. I heard the album, and it sounds very dark compared to the eariler ones. All this week I have had David Rawling's Bells of Harlem in my head, and its a haunting tune.
posted by wheelieman at 7:52 PM on June 30, 2011


I've written and deleted half a dozen comments on the whole question of genre studies and pastiche and (I think this is related) how important their music has been for me and (I think) so many people who care about the kinds of music they make, but I'm not getting anywhere coherent.

Anyhow, I have a copy of this waiting for me when I get back to Colorado in a few days. I'm holding off until then because I want to be sure I can sit and listen uninterrupted all the way through. I have pretty high hopes, but I'm pretty sure I won't know what I think right off the bat.
posted by brennen at 7:55 PM on June 30, 2011


Brennen, the first link has a stream of the entire album.

It's funny, there's all kinds of things on The Harrow and the Harvest that would (and have) annoyed me in other contexts (e.g. the knock) but which work wonderfully on this album. I can't place it next to Time yet (and doubt I will) but I really like it.

nebulawindphone: I remember reading an interview with... one of the members of Wilco, I think ...where he mocked Welch pretty savagely for singing about being a coal miner.

That's so inane I don't even... I just don't even. That member of Wilco can go stick his Authenticity Police Badge down his craw.
posted by Kattullus at 8:06 PM on June 30, 2011


I just clicked the Buy Now link in iTunes, based on the first 30 seconds of the first two songs. Have never paid any attention to her other than I'll Fly Away, which is one of the strongest points on the O Brother soundtrack. Don't ask me why -- thanks for the heads-up.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:24 PM on June 30, 2011


Kinda disappointing ):
posted by serazin at 8:31 PM on June 30, 2011


That's so inane I don't even... I just don't even. That member of Wilco can go stick his Authenticity Police Badge down his craw.

I kinda want a cite for that one. Not that members of Wilco are exempt from evincing cluelessness, but there we are not exactly talking about a band that shies away from genre exercises. (And whatever comments about "alt country" Tweedy might have made in the press circa Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, they sure did play a whole bunch of country music and folk, diligently and respectfully, when I saw 'em shortly after that album's official release.)
posted by brennen at 8:38 PM on June 30, 2011


I really do like her, and her and David's sound is the kind of stuff I play myself, for my own enjoyment.

I just have a hard time with the Berklee degree. It's like she went and created this persona as a mountain girl singing twangy plaintive songs in the Ivy League. It feels like an ad campaign.

I think most of what people like about her, is that she is the real deal, a true genuine Appalachian folk singer. I love her music, but I still have this feeling like maybe I am being sold a bill of goods.
posted by timsteil at 9:10 PM on June 30, 2011


Guh. I should clarify that I really fucking love their first two albums, and didn't mean to sound like I was disparaging them. I guess I was just riffing off the phrase 'rigid genre studies,' which seemed like an odd way to put it, given that the band has always been playing around with this same set of genres — and that if anything they've gotten more flexible rather than less so in how they use them.

But now I sound like I'm trying to pick a fight with wreckingball, and that also wasn't my intent. I'm gonna just sign off for a while before I put my foot even further in my mouth.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:41 PM on June 30, 2011


Welch is proof that really, really good things can indeed come out of Hollywood. Her partnership with Rawlings is proof that music is supposed to be really, really good. Thank you so much for this post!
posted by trip and a half at 11:21 PM on June 30, 2011


I think most of what people like about her, is that she is the real deal, a true genuine Appalachian folk singer.

well she is the real deal, but i don't know anyone who thinks she originated as such, and i've never heard her make some kind of claim to it. you make it sound like you had assumed she was plucked barefoot and illiterate off a mountain trail--or at least that you think this is the only form of legitimacy with which one can perform this kind of music.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 12:52 AM on July 1, 2011


Welch and Rawlings are the only performers whose music has ever made me cry, for being so incredibly beautiful.

As the encore to a show at the Barrymore in Madison, Wisconsin, c.2003, they unplugged all their instruments and came to the edge of the stage. The audience fell dead silent, partly of duty; largely of awe. They proceeded to play a hushed, gorgeous version of what to me is one of THE great American songs, "The Long Black Veil." Just ... stunning. And the tears did roll. An incredibly moving moment for me.
posted by Dr. Wu at 5:05 AM on July 1, 2011


If we're going to argue authenticity, then we should be disparaging Lady Gaga for not actually being a computer.

Outcome and intent, in that order are what's important in art. If we were to view and judge the worthiness of all music through a strict lens of authenticity, there'd be almost nothing to listen to at all.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:06 AM on July 1, 2011


There are currently no plans for a vinyl release of The Harrow and the Harvest.

Anybody want to argue about that?
posted by box at 5:11 AM on July 1, 2011


I mean, who's going to crap on Willin' because Lowell George wasn't actually a truck driver?
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:11 AM on July 1, 2011


50 Cent.

'Fake truck driver' is just another kind of wanksta.
posted by box at 5:17 AM on July 1, 2011


I'l be at the Fitz in St. Paul July 20th. Was going to but this CD directly from the artists then and there (hey, they keep more of my cash that way, right?) but now I don't think I can wait.
posted by Rain Man at 5:40 AM on July 1, 2011


This is painfully good.
posted by Ella Fynoe at 6:01 AM on July 1, 2011


Maybe I move in the wrong circles, but nobody I know is laboring under the misapprehension that Gillian Welch is Jean Ritchie.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:26 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


They proceeded to play a hushed, gorgeous version of what to me is one of THE great American songs, "The Long Black Veil." Just ... stunning.

The one time I've managed to catch them, so far, they did that song, and Gillian pointed out that it had been written in 1959, and talked about songs that "it sounds like no one wrote". They're more accomplished at that than anyone else I can name.

Forms so grounded in regional/traditional modes are always going to trigger questions about authenticity for some listeners, and I certainly don't want to say those questions are totally unimportant, but I think they tend to miss most of what matters about the music to the people who play it and the bulk of their audience.

A few years back, when my Grandma was still with us, we were driving somewhere and I put in a mix tape that had a bunch of the stuff I'd just been getting into. "I always liked the old time music" she said. Most of what we were listening to had been recorded in the last decade, and a lot of it by people from urban California. Was she being sold a bill of goods? Maybe, but I'm not sure I have it in me to care very much.
posted by brennen at 8:33 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, man...got a full listen in at lunch. I was singing harmonies by the third refrain on some of those songs. "Painfully good" is right. "Tennessee" sounds like something dug up from a million years ago.
posted by notsnot at 10:15 AM on July 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been tooling around Maui for a few days, and the radio stations here are...not satisfying me at this point. So, I grabbed this CD and popped it in.

Loving it for exactly how I'm feeling right now.
posted by bilabial at 5:45 PM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Been listening to this a lot lately, it really grows on you. The guitar work and harmonies are amazing.
posted by octothorpe at 8:37 AM on July 22, 2011


And, just got tickets for Oct 19 for a show at Pittsburgh's Byham Theater. Yay!
posted by octothorpe at 9:00 AM on July 22, 2011


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