Gillian Welch Keeps it Old School With The Harrow and the Harvest

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings - Photo Credit: Mark Seliger

In an age where the texture of album art is becoming more and more irrelevant, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings are kicking it old school. The cover art on Welch’s first album in eight years, The Harrow and the Harvest (CD & MP3), released last week, was produced using metal-plated letterpress machines that are normally reserved for high-dollar wedding invitations. (The CD is currently the #2 bestseller on Amazon, so perhaps this special attention is leading more people to kick it old school themselves.)

But the old school doesn’t stop with the album art or even the band’s transportation. Previous albums have included electric guitars and drums, but Harrow is the straight-up old-time acoustic that Welch fans beg for. I fell in love with this album instantly. It’s hard to get to the end of the album without replaying “Dark Turn of Mind” and “The Way That It Goes.”

Ben Ratliff at The New York Times didn’t give the album the most favorable review, reporting that “there’s nothing new here” and that the lyrics are incomplete. I’m not sure what the hell he was expecting. Here’s the band’s take from the press release:

 “Dave says this record is ‘ten different kinds of sad’, but it’s not without humor.  I feel like there’s a maturity in it and a sense of place that only comes with time.”  Gillian continues, “We feel at home in the folk tradition, and using its language combined with our own.” “That’s the whole point of the folk tradition,” laughs Dave.

John Jurgensen at The Wall Street Journal spoke with the duo for a great story about their working relationship, with Welch noting, “I’m not the artist; we’re the artist.”

The pair evolved gradually from stage duo to songwriting team. Now, she says, “We’re so unified in aesthetic and intent that it’s almost spooky.” Songs emerge from both musicians in various ways, but they often begin on the couch in their Nashville home, where Ms. Welch works late at night with a guitar, a spiral-bound notebook and a mechanical pencil. She rarely records a song as it develops. Instead, she hands off the rough draft to Mr. Rawlings by singing it for him. After working “with a closed door between us,” she says, they refine the tune together.

Welch & Rawlings are currently on a pretty aggressive tour schedule. I’m hoping to catch up with them at the Newport Folk Festival later this month.

Read more reviews: The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, The New York Times