Poor David’s Almanack
A new David Rawlings record is a chance for Gillian Welch fans to celebrate – just as any Gillian Welch album means some dynamic, earthy, wonderful playing from David Rawlings; so deep is their connection, their collaboration, that you almost have to like both of them, even if by default. They are so in tune with each other, what makes each other’s work its best – and I’m thrilled that Rawlings has dropped that daft “Machine” moniker for this, his third album – technically his first solo album then. And certainly his best.
The Dylan-esque singer/songwriter attempts and the Neil Young-like acoustic and electric guitar lines that framed his previous attempts are still here but they’re more subtly integrated; his ‘voice’ is more clear, his sound, the blended sound of his voice with Welch’s remains a joy. And often their material together, whether on an album by her or one by him (they have released eight albums together now, five credited to her, three to him) is so joyous in its outward celebration of music – on this album we have Guitar Man and Come On Over My House as the most overt examples.
But it’s there from the start, Midnight Train’s gentle guitar line that leads us in makes way in the third line for the first harmony between Welch and Rawlings; that in itself is a celebration of music, the joy in music, the yearning, the heartfelt heartbreak – they know these feels, they know how to so smoothly coax them, and always the right coat of varnish. Good bones in any of their songs and you can admire the lick of paint whilst still seeing and hearing some aspect of the early construction. There’s a believability (use the word authenticity if you must) that Ryan Adams will be forever searching for. It’s here. This is where he needs to look. He’s looked here once or twice, but he can’t give you what these two can.
Money Is The Meat In The Coconut is a love song to the act and art of folk-singing; Almanack is gingham and Appalachia bottled; distilled – the kind you can safely drink from…
Cumberland Gap not only takes the same title as a very good Jason Isbell song it starts off riding along on the groove and feel of Neil Young’s Old Man (in much the way that so many of Ryan Adams’ early songs wanted to be The Weight by The Band). And even so it just kills – makes it into a song of its own, becomes the only thing you can care about while you’re listening to it.
There are pretty acoustic guitars (Airplane), yearning singalongs (Lindsey Button), time-machine jar-swillin’ knees-ups (Yup) and the smell of dirt and sweat and…real (Good God A Woman).
It’s immaculate enough and dirty enough at exactly the same time. Special thanks must go to the engineers, the decision to capture this on analogue tape and the inclusion of Old Crow’s Ketch Secor, Dawes’ Griffin Goldsmith and Brittany Haas (fiddle).
As me ol’ cob Jim says, “you know when something real comes down the pike”. Well. Here it is.