More usually to be found providing behind the scenes solid support to musical partner Gillian Welch, producing the likes of Old Crow Medicine Show and providing guitarist sideman duties on albums by Ryan Adams and Robyn Hitchock, from time to time the the high treble-voiced Dave Rawlings steps into the spotlight himself.
The first time was in 2009 with the release of the Dave Rawlings Machine debut, Friend of a Friend, and he’s finally found space in the schedule to put together a follow-up, Welch naturally on board, joined by Paul Kowert from the Punch Brothers on bass, Willie Watson on vocals and guitar and contributions from Brittany Haas on fiddle and mandolin player Jordan Tice.
Co-penned by Welch and Rawlings, there are just seven tracks, but these rack up almost 40 minutes worth of music, vintage reflective Neil Young informs the opening two strings backed numbers, the lyrically downbeat The Weekend (“I’m going down the road feeling bad”) and the more simple strummed Short-Haired Woman Blues (which actually mentions a harvest moon).
Another template, Dylan’s influence percolates the sparse and spacious southern gothic of Bodysnatcher, though, with its fingerpicked guitar, train song The Last Pharaoh harks back to the earlier country era celebrated on O Brother Where Art Thou, on which, of course, Rawlings was involved.
A similar sensibility informs Candy, another deft southern fingerpicking tune that, in its subject matter and repeated questions lyric, has the air of a children’s playground song, while, with Welch’s harmonies clearly in evidence, the mandolin-led folksy Pilgrim (You Can’t Go Home) is perhaps the closest to the couple’s regular work.
Appearing earlier in the running order, the final track is the album’s lynchpin, The Trip a veritable guitar and mandolin backed epic about a broken marriage, as he advocates journeying “wherever your conscience has to roam” because “it’s much too hard to try and live a lie at home”. Clocking in at just under 11 unhurried minutes and surely inspired by Dylan’s Desolation Row, it opens with Rawlings’ lengthy spoken intro, drawing out the word ‘squall’, about a world where lovers have pink dresses and black hearts and unspeakable crimes go without judgement down the line, before Welch joins in for the close harmonies chorus, Rawlings switching from spoken to wearily sung sketches of resignation (“what’s a bullethole or two between friends”) for the remainder of the song, an evocative fiddle solo two thirds of the way through. If it takes another six years to come up with a song that’s even half as stunning as this, then it’ll be well worth the wait.
Review by: Mike Davies
Out Now via Acony Records
Order via Amazon