Friday, July 01, 2011

Album Review: Gillian Welch - The Harrow and The Harvest

With her first solo album in eight years, The Harrow and the Harvest, Gillian Welch doesn’t bother with “woe is me” complaining about tough times. Instead, she focuses on understanding and accepting the somber side of life.

The balance between light and dark is key as Welch comes to terms with darkness. “Some girls are bright as the morning and some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind,” she sings on “Dark Turn of Mind.” On “Silver Dagger,” the concept fully blooms when she sings, “here comes my baby, here comes my man with that silver dagger in his hand.” Everything is balanced: young, old, love and hate. Heck, even the name of the record is.

Welch tries to return to her childhood home, to a time before sin crept in, on “Tennessee” and “Down Along the Dixie”; however, she can't go back to home as she knew it. There is no geographic cure for hard times.

Of course, Dave Rawlings and Welch sound perfectly at home together as usual. Rawlings’ work on the album is exquisite, not only in providing support for Welch’s vocals but also in his thoughtful accompaniment. His restraint on “Scarlet Town” ups the tension so that any hint of resolution — such as knocking on his guitar when Welch sings “knocking" — becomes a revelation. Thanks to the tension throughout, when the album peaks, musically and thematically, on “Hard Times,” Rawlings and Welch sound anthemic.

It took years for Welch to secure a victory over the hard times, but in 46 minutes she is able to make the audience feel and share her triumph ensuring that The Harrow and The Harvest will not only be remembered come year’s end, but also well into the future.

Gillian Welch will play at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh on August 3. Tickets prices range from $17 to $35.

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