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Americana songbird's
welcome return after an
eight-year absence

Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest
(Acony Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: July 15, 2011
Gillian Welch

Review by Tony Bonyata

There is perhaps no better musician that encapsulates the soul of rural Americana music today than singer/songwriter Gillian Welch. Along with her longtime guitarist and music partner David Rawlings, Welch has been creating some of the most captivating and authentic sounding bluegrass and folk music ever since releasing her debut album Revival back in 1996. Since that time her greatest known achievement may be her musical contributions to the 2002 Grammy Award winning soundtrack "O Brother, Where At Thou?," but with a slew of artists covering her songs and collaborating with her, such as Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, The Decemberists, Jimmy Buffett and Ryan Adams, among others, she's also highly regarded as an artist's artist.

Unfortunately, it's been eight long years since Welch recorded her last studio album, Soul Journey. While her and Rawlings' foray into a more fleshed-out and electric sound on that effort may have put-off some of her folk purist fans (although not nearly as much as when Dylan plugged-in for his infamous 1965 electric rock set at the Newport Folk Festival amid jeers and boos from the audience), her recently released album with Rawlings, The Harrow & The Harvest, will not only win back fans of her earlier work, but should also help broaden her audience - thankfully without ever having to compromise either her songwriting style or musical vision.

Welch explains that the reason there was such a long absence between albums is that both her and Rawlings felt the songs they had come up with during that time just weren't strong enough to release. Listening to the beautifully sparse acoustic ballads and folk-tinged numbers on this effort proves that it was well worth the wait. Earthy, Appalachian-woven sonnets such as "Six White Horses" and "Silver Dagger" wouldn't sound out of place nestled in the mix of the O Brother soundtrack, while the sturdy and darkly cloaked country composition "Scarlet Town" makes the perfect foil for the gentler, yet sorrowful numbers "Dark Turn Of Mind," "The Way It Goes" and "Hard Times."

Most of the songs on this collection were recorded in just a take or two, and the raw, rough-hewn and seemingly effortless performances caught on tape are bare-boned and honest, giving the feel that the duo are performing right next to you. All-in-all The Harrow & The Harvest is a very welcome return from this country songbird.

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