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Album review: Gillian Welch's 'The Harrow & the Harvest'

June 28, 2011 |  9:30 am

Gillianwelch Does the world still remember Gillian Welch? Maybe best known among mainstream listeners for her entanglement with the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack back in 2000, it’s been eight long years since Welch released an album.

But questions about timeliness lose meaning pretty fast when listening to Welch teamed with her nearly symbiotic collaborator David Rawlings. Long trafficking in a sometimes spare yet intricately drawn sort of Americana that could fit just as comfortably at the turn of the 20th century, their latest delivers the same deceptively simple alchemy of dustily lilting voices, vivid lyrical twists and crisp acoustic flourishes.

While previous albums could flirt with rambunctious elements — for a folk duo, anyway (drums! electric guitars!) — “The Harrow & the Harvest” generally sticks to Welch and Rawlings’ quiet, almost achingly intimate wheelhouse. “The Way It Will Be” finds the duo’s voices merged to otherworldly effect amid haunting admissions like “I can’t say your name without a crow flying by.” On “Six White Horses,” the banjo, handclaps and harmonica cradle their voices so cozily that a twilit front porch practically appears wherever you might be listening. With “Tennessee” casting a sideways glance at the grim classic “Moonshiner,” and “Scarlet Town” carrying a similar drive as Welch’s “Rock of Ages” from 1998, the duo aren’t necessarily taking listeners anywhere new. But considering how beautifully they’ve constructed their rustic world, it’s just a rare treat to have them take us back again.

— Chris Barton

Gillian Welch
“The Harrow & the Harvest”
Acony
Three and a half stars (out of four)

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