The Harrow & The Harvest
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2011 release from the critically adored Americana/Bluegrass singer/songwriter. The Harrow & The Harvest, Gillian's first album in eight years, is an all acoustic affair containing 10 new songs. The album was produced by David Rawlings and recorded at Woodland Sound Studios in Nashville, TN.
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The 10 tracks on "The Harrow & the Harvest" are well-penned and executed. In an interview with The Australian, Gillian said the duo struggled with getting the material just right for this album. And got it right they did. Gillian returns to her cowgirl-boots-in-a-daisy-field folk, dark lyrics and melodies with just enough melancholia to make you feel good.
Gone are the drums that adorned her previous album, "Soul Journey," (the drum work on that LP wasn't flashy, but rather curiously echoed the plodding snare thumps found on Neil Young's "Harvest.")
Standout tracks include "Dark Turn of Mind" and "Down Along the Dixie Line." But the whole album flows and is best enjoyed in its entirety, in solitude.
"The Harrow & the Harvest" is a must-have for Gillian Welch fans.
If you're new to her, this is a great starting point. But there's no need to tell you to explore her back catalog. After hearing this, you will.
"Scarlet town" has the Appalachian ambience of Caleb Mayer and is a great opener with Rawlings accompaniment showing the master musician at his best and a memorable chorus where Welch croons "look at that deep well, look at that dark day". Next up is "Dark turn of mind" a country blues lament that gently rolls along so slowly that you fear it might stop, but is genuinely exquisite. Three songs on the album start with the words "The Way" and the third song will excite those who have longed for the release of the live favourite "Throw me a rope" now renamed "The way it will be". It hints at Neil Young's "On the beach" and is an utter standout. The middle section of the album builds on this tremendous opening and comprises the drug referenced "The way that it goes", the intense six minute plus ruminating dark epic "Tennessee" (perhaps the albums nearest equivalent to "Revelator") and "Down along the Dixie Line" full of references to the deep south and lines drawn from the original civil war anthem "Dixie". In this setting the harmonizing of Welch and Rawlings is memorizing and the way he weaves his guitar lines effortless. Thus when "Six white horses" bounds in with harmonicas and handclaps its almost a full gear change upwards but a delightful one.
The album concludes with "Hard times" which could have been sung the day after the end of the civil war and it would have had resonance for that resolute generation of Americans. The penultimate song "Silver dagger" is possibly the weakest on the album sounding like a reworking of "You are my sunshine" yet other country artists would give their right arm to cover this. Finally the last of the "The Way" trilogy is the aptly named the "The Way the whole thing ends" which could have sound tracked Peter Bogdanovich's stunning portrait of a atrophied West Texas town "The Last Picture Show" as Welch gently laments "that's the way the cornbread crumbles/that the way the whole thing ends". In the last analysis "The Harrow and the Harvest" is deceptively simple album but on deeper listens we discover hidden subtleties and gradations, which Welch and Rawlings have crafted into their best album to date. A warning - this reviewer has no objectivity when it comes to these master musicians but despite this when sheer class of this calibre hits you full force all you can do is hope that we don't have to wait until 2019 for another instalment of such virtuosity.
the songs that have resonated most with me are not the same as
some of the ones that have resonated with others-- which is to
say this is a dynamic album that will touch everyone in different
ways. i've been dying for this record. they've been playing
"the way it will be" live since the time of soul journey, 8 years ago.
i've listened to the record three times since yesterday
(i don't want to overdo it). gillian's voice in a room, with
two guitars, a banjo, some hands, whatever.. it cuts to my core
and so my review will be biased because her lilts and syncopated
notes walk the edge of despair and something silver. for me, her
soulfulness resonates in a similar realm as that of otis redding-
for different reasons of course.
pretty much, i just want to thank gillian and david for putting
out another record. from the stunningly pretty guitar work on
"scarlet town" (whatever key that's in makes david's guitar
sound like copper pennies falling into a well.)
to the acid, lonesome message of "the way it will be" to
the timely and timeless, soul-stirring "hard times"--
and everything in between.
i'm grateful for this music.
PS Studying the cover a bit more, I'll concede that it's probably tongue-in-cheek: I don't think Gillian Welch really considers herself the Minerva of American roots music. But you never know. Increasingly addictive music, in any case.
Columbia Records producer Bob Johnston once said of Bob Dylan in his Highway 61 Revisited heyday, "He can't help what he's doing. He's got the Holy Spirit about him." Whether or not we subscribe to Johnston's religious interpretation of the phenomenon he recorded, Dylan was plugged into the mythic. On The Harrow & the Harvest, Welch and Rawlings are working at that level. They're consummate musicians delivering a clinker-free performance of music that ought to be depressing as hell but leaves the listener with her flinty chin stuck out. Yes, it's going to be knocked off but, knowing that, the beauty of humanity is in the dignity of sticking it out.