Eight years in the making, Gillian Welch’s latest release, The Harrow & the Harvest, hit shelves about eighteen months ago. The general consensus is that this album was worth the wait. Reviews on both Amazon and iTunes give the album a solid four star rating out of five with 75% or more of the reviewers giving the album five stars. With just her musical partner, David Rawlings, and herself contributing all of the instrumentation and vocals we find the old maxim, less is more, as true as ever.
In an interview with Austin City Limits Welch commented that she and Rawlings have been busy writing many other songs but chose only the best ones to record on this project. That is certainly the feeling one gets after listening to the album. Each song has a polished sound that leaves little doubt about the time and effort put into it. Overall, there is little deviation on the album from the pure, haunting harmonies and mournful lyrics that have become Welch’s trademark.
Rawlings, as always, is masterful and leaves one wondering just where Welch might be without him. But never mind the speculation, this duo makes some of the best bluegrass music to be found. The melodies are memorable without being boring. The harmonies are beautiful and clear. The picking is as perfect and lovely as it comes. Altogether the simple and beautiful sounds of this small ensemble leave the listener with a warm feeling of hope, like a cozy blanket on a cold and wet, rainy day.
This is what makes Welch’s music so wonderful. She combines sad and lonely sounds with difficult themes in her lyrics in a way that is not despondent or angry. In fact, one could call her music uplifting, though on close inspection you would find songs about death, hunger, rape and child mortality. “Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind,” from the song “Hard Times” seems to sum it up. Congratulations to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings on a superb album. You may have kept your fans waiting but you did not disappoint them.