June 25, 2011 12:34 am

Gillian Welch: The Harrow and the Harvest

Gillian Welch

The Harrow and the Harvest

(Acony)

5 stars

There are times when some drip wanders into view dully strumming a guitar that one curses Bob Dylan for unleashing singer-songwriters on the world. Enough with the folkie drivel!

But then Gillian Welch comes along and the droning of lesser singer-songwriters is instantly forgotten. The Harrow and the Harvest is Welch’s fifth album, recorded in Nashville with her musical partner David Rawlings. More stripped-down than its predecessor, 2003’s Soul Journey, its songs revolve around the pair’s acoustic guitars and Welch’s sorrowful singing.

“Dark Turn of Mind” is a languorously jazzy number about romantic disillusionment, Welch’s voice drifting like autumn mist through the song. “Scarlet Town” is intricately played folk-blues in which she plays a country girl corrupted by the city. “The Way It Goes” features virtuoso guitar-work, robust yet delicately filigreed. The final two songs, with their harmonica squalls, cryptic religious imagery and oblique social comment (“Now what’s a baby doing/Dressing up in banker’s clothes?”), betray Welch’s debt to Dylan. But for once it’s a debt repaid in full.

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