Some 8 years since her last album, Gillian Welch makes her long awaited return with The Harrow & The Harvest. Partnering up once again with collaborator David Rawlings, the new album is the culmination of all the songwriting frustration that has built up since 2003’s Soul Journey. This extended period has been labelled by Welch as a difficult time where “we made a few tentative steps at trying to record, but inevitably the heart would go out of it when we realised that we simply didn’t like the material enough to go on with it.”
It’s with absolute rejoice then, that The Harrow & The Harvest is easily one of the best pieces of music released this year, and an unconditional artistic success for both Welch and Rawlings. It’s amazing to hear and feel the emotional connection one can have to music primarily composed of an incredible voice, two or so instruments and the knowledge and thirst for traditional and historic American music.
From the beautiful opening of “Scarlet Town” to the gut wrenching introspection of “Tennessee” and the sullen tone of “Down Along The Dixie Line”, The Harrow & The Harvest is a triumph of everything Americana, blues, Appalachian and heartfelt. And as sparse as much of the album is, it has enough resonance to fill the great depths of the Grand Canyon. The twang of the banjo coupled by her drawl in “Hard Times” is a particularly terrific tune- both wry in its lyrical twists and futility- while the closing “The Way The Whole Thing Ends” boasts the beautiful fragility of spending a pretty Sunday morning at a funeral.
A truly rewarding listen from beginning to end, the album traverses the dusty plains of America’s endless landscapes and mountains, weaving in stories of sadness, anger, pain and humor the only way a whiskey-drenched Tennessee night can. The last time I felt this way about an album, it was written by Loretta Lynn. It seems the very best story telling in music comes from the amazing women of America’s southern lands.