Gillian Welch | The Harrow and the Harvest
It’s often said that the best musicians live in their own worlds, so with that in mind, it would be safe to say that New York-born country chanteuse Gillian Welch and fingerpickin’ sidekick extraordinaire David Rawlins are probably sitting on some Mississippi porch rocking chairs right now, in a scene straight out of the Coen Borthers’ classic O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Sticking resolutely to the formula that has made them country pin-ups since 1996’s Revival, The Harrow and the Harvest gently drifts through bluegrass, folk and country blues as easily as the wind through the pines, with only the effortlessly sparse alto of Welch’s backwoods holler and two guitars doing all the work.
On the surface it’s the kind of stuff you’d expect to hear spilling out of the Waltons’ gramophone just after church on a Sunday, but the melancholy harmonies and surprisingly dark lyrics soon conjure up a laudanum-soaked world of sepia-tinted memories and dustbowl vignettes. Some girls are as bright as the morning/and some are blessed with a dark turn of mind coos, Welch, with a kind of maudlin vocals, leave you in no doubt as to which camp she falls into. They threw me out of Sunday school when I was nine she then confesses on “Tennessee” – not quite up there with Amy Winehouse just yet I grant you, but doubtlessly already on the slippery slope to a life of whiskey drinkin’ and gambling vices amidst a world of god fearin’, clean livin’ folks.
There are moments of cautious upbeat optimism such as the banjo-driven “Six White Horses”, but it’s the more sinister tracks that really affect, like album opener “Scarlett Town” and wistful ditty “The Way it Will Be”. However, despite the doom and gloom the overall impact of The Harrow and the Harvest is of uplifting nostalgia for a bygone age of Americana that seems increasingly distant, so pull up a chair on the porch and prepare to get engrossed.