Thursday, 30 June 2011

Gillian Welch - The Harrow & the Harvest

Harrowing Harmony

My title overstates, but it allows me to more aptly refine my alliterative observation to the mesmerising melancholy of the songs and singing on this wonderful album, eight years after Welch's last recording. The Welch/Rawlings symbiosis continues to produce the most hauntingly perfect harmonising of voices.

I am not going to dissect each song because others can do that, and it would be difficult and misleading because for this album in particular it is the similarity to one another and then the aural discovery of nuances that delights. The guitar, harmonica, banjo and leg slapping provide the consistent instrumentation, and the melodies are almost all incredibly simple. Of course the Blues is simple, as is traditional Country and Folk: patterns are repeated and developed and we get caught up in the familiarity and instant comfort of recognition. What lifts that simple familiarity to Art is Welch's solo voice, the uncanny harmonising, and Rawlings' distinctive virtuoso - but never flash - guitar work.

Songs I will highlight are The Way It Will Be which is utterly beautiful, The Way It Goes where the refrain 'everbody's buying little baby clothes' takes on an inexplicable lyrical gravitas, Six White Horses where the banjo and hand/leg slapping take on an inexplicable brightening of spirit, and The Way The Whole Things Ends where the virtual monotone tune becomes both hypnotic and expectant when those nuances of varied tone and melody do appear: the cornbread crumbling in both its ordinary and extraordinary parallel symbiosis.

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