It’s been eight years since Gillian Welch’s Soul Journey. Eight long years during which she and partner Dave Rawlings could have put out three or four albums, such was the volume of songs they wrote. But Welch and Rawlings set a high watermark for themselves with Revival, Hell Among The Yearlings and Time (The Revelator), and so many of those songs were dispensed with.
“Even our best songs I feel walk a line of such understatement, that if they fall off it at all, they’re just boring,” Welch told me last month.
“There’s not a lot of sis-boom-ba in our songs. One way they can air is to simply be too flat. So how do we know they’re not working? When they bore us. Because we’re the ones who have to live with them through the years. The songs that we do like, for me they’re really a kind of a balancing act. They’re almost a magic trick, a tightrope walk between confessional and narrative and traditional and modern and now and then.”
The Harrow & The Harvest, described by Rawlings as “10 different kinds of sad”, has certainly been worth the long wait. Welch’s lonesome delivery, the aching notes Rawlings picks out on guitar and narratives that recall the Gothicism of Harry Smith’s Anthology Of American Folk Music – all of these things make it a piece of work that will transcend the frivolous culture that defines the new millennium.
If you have a mind to, you can read my full interview with Welch in the next issue of R2 magazine, published in September. In the meantime, here’s Welch and Rawlings performing ‘The Way It Goes’ (from The Harrow & The Harvest) on American telly.