DAVID RAWLINGS Gil­lian Welch’s other half puts the load right on him

UNCUT - - New Albums David Rawlings - Poor David’s Al­manack JOHN MUL­VEY

For all their charms, the ar­rival of each new David Rawlings al­bum in­evitably poses an awk­ward ques­tion: why does it ex­ist, when a new Gil­lian Welch al­bum does not? Since 2011’s ex­tra­or­di­nary The Har­row & The Har­vest, six years have passed in which Welch’s stu­dio en­er­gies seem to have been con­cen­trated on re­vers­ing the po­lar­i­ties of her part­ner­ship with Rawlings.

In demo­cratic terms it makes sense, given the col­lab­o­ra­tive na­ture of all their work. Welch cowrites five of the ten songs here and con­trib­utes har­monies, at the very least, to all of them. Welch makes for a bril­liant back­ing singer, but it’s hard not to spec­u­late what the ter­rif­i­cally plain­tive “Air­plane” might have sounded like if she’d taken the lead, es­pe­cially given its affini­ties with The Har­row & The Har­vest’s “The Way It Will Be”.

Per­haps the an­swer lies in some­thing Rawlings told Un­cut in 2015. “Gil­lian’s voice has such a great qual­ity that the more you strip away around it the bet­ter it sounds, which is why we’ve al­ways made very sparse records,” he said. “But when I’m singing, it’s back to, ‘OK, how do we present this strange in­stru­ment?’” Con­se­quently, Poor David’s Al­manack be­trays a keen­ness to flesh out their aes­thetic: Bowie vet Ken Scott en­gi­neers, and a more elab­o­rate sound de­sign in­cor­po­rates strings on the afore­men­tioned “Air­plane”.

In that con­text, Rawlings is a fine front­man, an ami­able con­venor of ses­sions where Brit­tany Haas’ fid­dle takes the spot­light as of­ten as his own dis­creet vir­tu­os­ity on the guitar, where Dawes and the Old Crow Medicine Show drop in, and where Welch can add “hands and feet” per­cus­sion as well as drums. That old-time, good-time vibe can oc­ca­sion­ally dip into hokey­ness, as the al­bum ti­tle sig­nals, but slower num­bers like “Lind­sey But­ton” and “Put ’Em Up Solid” are where the group ex­cels. As Rawlings and Welch’s vo­cals in­ter­twine with those of Wil­lie Wat­son, there’s a hym­nal qual­ity to the sound and a com­mu­ni­tar­ian warmth; a de­sire, ex­plicit or oth­er­wise, to pay homage to The Band, another act who un­der­stood the en­dur­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties of a col­lec­tive ap­proach to roots mu­sic.

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