There are many reasons to love Gillian Welch. High on our list is the fact she tours exclusively by car. When asked by Mother Jones why, she said this:
There was something we were finding increasingly dislocating about airplane travel, the lack of acknowledgment of space and miles and movement. It’s really grounding to do all the travel in the car — Dave [Rawlings, her musical partner] said he feels our thoughts and our selves gathering weight. The topography, culture, and language of this country figure prominently in our work. I mostly read American authors for the same reason. We even stopped taking I-40, which is the fastest way, and started spending more time on I-70, I-10, just moving around. I know it’s part of this record, that we dispensed with the fastest route.
There is a lot of art today done by “the fastest route” — music, books, movies (especially), thrown together with such haste and efficiency that it feels as though it came from nowhere, or anywhere. Not all of this art is bad, of course. But a lot of it sure is.
Welch is one of those artists who blessedly goes against the grain. Her music is intimate, lovely, sometimes haunting. Coming eight years after her previous release (the uneven Soul Journey), The Harrow And The Harvest veers into darker territory lyrically but never loses its gentle, easy grace. The ten songs compiled here sound timeless: simple, spare and evocative. The melancholy of “Hard Times” is lifted by the refrain, “Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more,” while “Tennessee” includes this lovely little lyric:
Now I’ve tried drinking rye and gamblin’
Dancing with damnation is a ball
But of all the little ways I’ve found to hurt myself
Well you might be my favorite one of all
The term “slow music” sounds a bit insulting, but we mean it in the best sense when we say that Welch writes some of the finest slow music out there. It’s best enjoyed sitting on your porch around sunset, maybe well into dusk, with a glass of your favorite beverage in hand. This, we recommend.
(The worst thing we can say about the album is that the cover art makes her look like Fiona Apple. But depending on your outlook, that may be a plus.)
(Another reason we love Welch: She wrote the only 15-minute song — “I Dream A Highway,” from Time (The Revelator) — that you’ll never, ever get tired of listening to.)