David Rawlings: Poor David’s Almanack
Acony Records – 11 August 2017
It’s only been two years since Dave Rawlings’ Nashville Obsolete album was released under his Machine moniker, but the songs making up Almanack were being written almost immediately after that album landed. Upon hearing the notes of ‘Midnight Train’ kick in, it’s clear that this will be a more accessible affair than Obsolete, a great album indeed, but one of a slightly denser nature, with songs like ‘The Trip’ touching eleven minutes and that low riff to ‘Short Haired Woman Blues’ demanding a different kind of attention. Like ‘The Trip’, ‘Midnight Train’ is journey music, but it clocks in at just over three minutes and is calm and soothing. The minor key acoustic refrain (this album is full of refrains) immediately informs the listener that this disc can be put on and left to soak in of its own accord. It’s probably the gentlest record the studio has produced.
To reiterate this is the lovely little ‘Money is the Meat in the Coconut’ that follows on, a cute old-time fiddle chant with Dave’s voice having fun putting on a little drawl during the verses. With the songs coming so soon after Obsolete was penned, it brings to mind the contrast between Bob Dylan’s two 1964 light and shade albums, The Times they are a-‘Changin’ and the jovial and intimate Another Side of Bob Dylan. Although the differences between Rawlings’ two records aren’t so deliberate or stark, there is a sense of playfulness about Almanack that is as welcome as it is irresistible. And varied too; it’s a heavy dose of Fleetwood Mac that permeates the ear-drums when ‘Cumberland Gap’ stops by, with Rawlings and Welch duetting to an ever so slightly hazy band sound that also brings to mind sunny stretches of the Californian coast. And the sound swerves again into Mick Jagger territory when he’s doing his ‘Sweet Virginia’ bit, on ‘Guitar Man’. It feels slightly odd to hear an electric guitar cutting through a modern Rawlings and Welch release, but it works well here against Dave’s slightly yearning vocal.
But we soon shift back into inland rural America with ‘Yup’, a cheeky narrative about a scolding wife being taken by the devil (the husband decides his boy is more useful on the land) into the depths of hell, only to have his little ones beg him to take her back to the land of the living. It’s a one eyebrow up tune, dry and sardonic, and it’s probably the most fun song on this hugely enjoyable set, although the penultimate ‘Good God a Woman’ runs close, employing a backing vocal band to great effect, bringing fun and texture to the lyrics. Dave ends the album with the motivational ‘Put ’em up Solid’, a song as far a cry from their most famous ender, ‘I Dream a Highway’ from Time (the Revelator) as you can get, but the right one to finish such an uplifting, gentle and hugely enjoyable record.
Photo Credit: Henry Diltz