Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Gillian Welch- The Harrow and The Harvest

I'm a huge Gillian Welch fan, I'm also a fan of her partner Dave Rawlings who is one of the best guitar players going around. Her songs have a gritty realism to them and what better way to express that than with the sounds of old time America, which traditionally expressed the misfortune and drama of everday life.

The Harrow and The Harvest was her fifth studio album released in the middle of 2011, it was also a significant commercial breakthrough, in Australia it reached #11 which is unprecedented for a roots album. The gestation period for the album was a long and painful one, Welch commented on how there songwriting had slipped and that there had been aborted attempts at recording in the eight years since her previous release Soul Journey. It makes Harrow and the Harvest even more remarkable because it sounds so assured, lyrically and musically it doesn't miss a beat. A hint of darkness opens the album on Scarlet Town, a town where a bride is left abandoned, the things that happened to her in Scarlet Town have mortified her soul and left her broken. Dark Turn of Mind is a lovers plea to be treated with kindess, she has already endured cruelty which has left her with a dark turned mind. Welch delivers a performance that is soft but with a hint of desperation, a sense that happiness is within reach but it may not come. The Way It Will Be is a song of resentment but with a faint hope of resignation, the song doesn't hold back,

I've never been so disabused, I've never been so mad
I've never been served anything that tasted so bad
Toy might need a friend any day now, any day
Oh my brother be careful, you are drifting away

The jaunty The Way It Goes has a twisted dark premise, and some wonderful storytelling.

Becky Johnson bought the farm
With a needle in her arm,
That's the way it goes
That's the way

Each verse is punctuated with some dextruous guitar work from Dave Rawlings, some clean country picking that builds on the tension and drama.

Well Miranda ran away
Took her cat and left L.A
That's the way that it goes 
That's the way
She was busted, broke and flat
Had to sell that pussy cat
That's the way it goes
That's the way.

Tennessee is a wry tale of temptation and how easy and sometimes how pleasurable it is too fall into it's open arms. Welch's voice blends with Rawling's mournful sparse picking, he leaves subtle gaps for her voice to achieve it's most significant impact, it's a rare gift. Hard Times is a sorrowful tale of life on the land and how things changed when technology made it's way on to the farm. It's a story of the connection that a man had with his land and the mule that ploughed the land and his love of that mule. Then comes the realisation that the big machine is bearing down, times are changing the days of the mule are over. In a sense it's also a call to remember the great history of old time America. Six White Horses is a real old time tune, banjo and harp and the blended vocals taking us back to the hills and old time music of the Appalachia.

Harrow and The Harvest is an album that resonates with the difficulties of human emotions, the turmoil we go through, and the minefields we face in our everyday lives. She weaves a sense of loss and despair through each song, it's not maudlin instead it's striking, it makes you sit up and take notice. It also looks with reverence and respect at the past, I was hoping they would tour the album here last year but unfortunately it didn't happen, hopefully this year.

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