By James Calemine
The Harrow & The Harvest counts as Gillian Welch’s fifth studio album with her musical partner David Rawlings. Welch’s respect in the industry is well deserved. She’s performed and collaborated with T-Bone Burnett, Mark Knopfler, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, James Burton and many others. Of course, she performed two songs from the classic O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
Welch indicated the delay in recording an album was attributed to writer’s block. The Harrow & The Harvest contains beautiful acoustic music, and hard-as-steel poetry. This record is a formidable collection of ten original songs. “Scarlet Town” opens the disc with Welch’s hypnotic voice, and sooth acoustic instrumentation.
“He left me with a dark turn of mind,“ Welch sings in the next song, and that’s all that really needs to be said. “The Way It Will Be”, a song of sad truths, is delivered with amazing harmonies and Rawlings’ guitar evokes melancholy. “That’s The Way It Goes” is a dark song about hard lives where overdoses, jail and desperation are common denominators in life. Welch sings “She was busted/Broken flat/She had to sell that pussy cat…”
“Tennessee” emerges as a redemptive confessional where Rawlings’ guitar playing illuminates the imagination. A train song, “Down Along The Dixie Line” sounds like a traditional American hymn, but demonstrates Welch’s pure vision. The banjo-laced “Six White Horses” evokes Civil War songs, sanctified faith and looming death.
Welch’s voice represents the soul of good, hard-working people in “Hard Times”. “Silver Dagger” begins with Welch singing “I’m on the dark side of a hollow hill”, and it feels like we’re all sinking in these ruthless times. This stands as one of this collection’s finest numbers with traces of Bob Dylan’s broad songwriting scope.
The final song on The Harrow & The Harvest is “The Way The Whole Things Ends”, and I must say it’s a perfect ending. The music, blended with vivid images and emotional ties, really resonates. The Harrow & The Harvest exists as a diamond in Gillian Welch’s prestigious discography. No tricks, just talent and soul…