This review was originally published at Listen Before You Buy.
Just when I’d given up on the female vocalists of the current decades, after I’d spent years decrying the unending slew of pop-infused, sickly, sexualized women musicians, I found Gillian Welch. Although Welch has been releasing albums since the late 90s, my first encounter with her old timey, smooth vocals and loved-and-left lyrics was on the album she released last summer, “The Harrow & The Harvest”. Welch is the horsewoman of modern music, wrangling her way into hearts, and this record is proof that the old country blood of the deep south and pioneer spirit of the west still lurks somewhere in the veins of its descendants.
Jaunty album opener ‘Scarlet Town’ finds Welch in a nightmare old country town, and she concludes with the chilling line “I’ll be looking through a telescope/ From hell to Scarlet Town”. Revealing a more vulnerable side in ‘Dark Turn of Mind’ she effectively dismisses cheerful and carefree women with another of her infamous zingers “Some girls are bright as the morning / Some are blessed with a dark turn of mind” lazily taking the despair of heartbreak and turning it from a character flaw into a blessing.
Building upon the guitar showmanship of her musical partner David Rawlings, Welch’s voice is right out of another century and is both down home and velvet luxury. Dangling high notes throughout her songs like decorations, Welch really shines in the lower register she sticks to for the majority of the album. ‘Tennessee’ is an epic tale of debauchery and deflowering as Welch accuses her unnamed ex-lover “Your affront to my virtue/ Was a touch too much / But you left a little twinkle in my eye”. True to form, she acknowledges both the sin, the heartbreak, the suffering, and her enjoyment of the sinful activities despite their consequences.
The record winds its way through ballads and tales as if down an old country road, and with the same determination that pioneer women plowed through the wilderness to settle America, Gillian Welch carves herself out a place in modern music by bravely carrying on. Her lyrics reveal a women of steely strength and a tender heart, her topics carry an ancient weight that is both fresh and infinite. The album is steeped in resigned heartbreak that infuses every note with sorrowful satisfaction, a sure-fire winner for anyone who craves the saloon saturated days of the wild west.
Listen to the album on Grooveshark.