Poor David’s Almanack David Rawlings Acony/Planet Old-fashioned yet timeless and inextricably entwined, albums crafted by David Rawlings and his partner-in-rhyme Gillian Welch have become the bedrock of 21st-century Americana music. Saturated in the rich vernacular of the American folk and country tradition in acoustic and electric beds spiced with spine-tingling three and four-part harmony choruses, Poor David’s Almanack — the couple’s eighth joint outing — sets a new high-water mark. To suggest that Rawlings’s newly written songs sound more like wellseasoned Appalachian standards is entirely complimentary. Instantly catchy, with singalong choruses featuring the combined voices of the dynamic duo and past and present members of fellow Nashville cats the Old Crow Medicine Show, the 10 tracks are simply irresistible. An old-school approach that entailed recording on analog tape at Rawlings and Welch’s home studio, over a one-week session, has palpably enhanced the immediacy of a set supervised by eminent sound engineer Ken Scott. The rhythm guitar of former Medicine Show man Willie Watson, in tandem with the equally punchy upright bass of the Punch Brothers’ Paul Kowert, plus the earthy fiddle of Crooked Still’s Brittany Haas on several tracks, lays a perfect platform for Rawlings’s incisive lead singing, soloing and intricate arranging. Expertly tailored backing tracks, allied to the sweetest vocal harmony and Rawlings’s earthy lyrics, combine to create imagery as American as the Grand Canyon. The guitar-slinger’s 1930s archtop gets vintage workouts in the bluesy Guitar Man, a song that could be construed as a wry self-composed paean by Rawlings (“Go, tell your friends / Here comes the guitar man”), and in the compelling Cumberland Gap. Neither track should be confused with previous well-known songs recorded under those titles. Rawlings’s take on the geographically significant “devil of a gap” where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia converge — and first registered in song in a folk standard that originated in the 19th century and was later recorded by Woody Guthrie — has the singer swapping verses with his partner and chanting a spectral chorus over swirling organ and stomping beat. Satan rears his ugly head again in the quirky Yup, in which the quivery sound of saw adds to eerie atmospherics. Balancing the religious ledger and feminine allegory, Good God a Woman is a tongue-in-cheek genuflection to “the big man” underpinned by Kowert’s slap bass. In the rollicking Money is the Meat in the Coconut, Welch provides effective rhythm on hands and feet, in other tracks on more conventional drums and percussion. Slower in tempo but lacking nothing in quality, the ballads Airplane and Lindsey Button offer a buffer between the beefier cuts, with strings ornamentation. Tasty acoustic guitar fills work with driving chords and fiddle in the opening Midnight Train to put the album on the right track. Harmonium accompaniment puts the seal on a sumptuous gospel-infused sign-off, Put ‘Em Up Solid.