David Rawlings is a multi-instrumentalist, primarily guitar, who uses his substantial abilities in an accompanist role. Rawlings writes and records often with Gillian Welch. The music these two craft sounds as if it came from another era and another place. It is new old music that echoes the ballads and plaints of American mountain and folk music and even the old English folk music that begat much of the American genre from early days. However, a closer listen reveals elements of a raft other styles and influences from blues to R&B, jazz and rock. Rawlings and Welch have both studied music in a formal setting and the breadth of their knowledge is applied subtlely.
Welch’s newest release from June 2011, “The Harrow and the Harvest”, is a fine example of the soulfulness and emotion that can come from well written songs, sparse playing and carefully considered accompaniment. The instrumentation is primarily Welch’s acoustic rhythm guitar and Rawling’s accompaniment on acoustic archtop. The woody, ‘midrangey’, sound of his old Epiphone is distinctive. Rawlings uses arpeggios and voice leading behind Welch’s singing and strumming. He uses melodic single note lines during solos. Both of these are vital to the overall effect of the songs. The arpeggios accentuate the song’s harmony while the lead lines extend the melody and the emotion. It’s difficult to imagine any of the 10 songs on this album having the same depth and impact with any of the parts missing, or with any more added for that matter. This is a great recording for any accompanist looking for examples of the importance of restraint in the duo format.
In addition to his work with Gillian Welch, Rawlings has recorded with his own group The David Rawlings Machine and has contributed to albums by Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes, Ani DiFranco and others. His work in all of these settings exhibits the same qualities of musicianship and control.