I was late to hear the name Gillian Welch -- but when I did, it changed a lot of things for me. It was mentioned in passing by an artist I consider a legend, and I remembered her name for safe keeping because she must have been some kind of good for one of my musical heros to cite her record Time (The Revelator) as one of his all-time favorites. Revelator reads out like bittersweet wisdom, sung by a woman with enough life behind her to know a thing or two about the healing properties of time.
Not all of her work is melancholy country. There are bursts of joy in her latest record, The Harrow & the Harvest, such as "The Way It Goes," yet another song about things changing and relationships moving on in an almost cyclical rhythm. It's got that spirit of "what goes around, comes around." Welch has a sensibility beyond her years, and with the help of longtime musical partner David Rawlings, the record aches in intimate moments.
No wonder the songs sound like they've been stewing themselves, with a kind of timelessness -- attributed to an eight year gap between records, The Harrow & the Harvest had space to stretch out, yet not without obstacles. Welch described this period as writer's block, and the frustrations that grew out of that. Rawlings was heavily involved in its production and is credited as its co-author -- their most intertwined album to date.
The result was worth the wait. The Harrow & the Harvest is a serene record that puts you at ease, softens your breath and has you reaching for a lawn chair and some lemonade. It's like listening to your mother tell you stories while she braids your hair -- the kind of music that makes you feel safe.
Welch has recently put together an archive of her past shows dating back to just 2011 (90 shows recorded in all) where you can click back, check out the set list and, if you're lucky, a few videos. So if you can't make it out to her May 30 show at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay, that'll be your only alternative. That's barely a substitute for getting to see her rare earnest folk live, so I suggest you get your tickets now.