DAVID RAWLINGS – Poor David’s Almanack (Acony)

AlmanackThe material is all new, but, in part because several are based on traditional stories and songs, the feel is ageless as David Rawlings evokes a sense of a vanished rural America in a similar gothic folk manner to his longtime musical partner, Gillian Welch who, as ever, joins him here.

She brings effective harmonies on the album’s leaving-themed train song opener, ‘Midnight Train’, Rawlings ably demonstrating his acclaimed acoustic fingerpicking. Next up, opening and underpinned with her handclap and foot percussion and featuring Willie Watson on banjo, ‘Money Is The Meat In The Coconut’ is one of several playful numbers, this derived from African roots but with a hoe-down feel, albeit the lyrics carrying an underlying anti-capitalist message about subsistence living.

Watson also lends his vocals to the brooding Appalachian drama of the Rawlings-Welch duet ‘Cumberland Gap’, the former’s restyling of a traditional number previously assayed by the likes of Guthrie, Seeger and Donegan, here filtered through the musical lens of CSN&Y’s ‘Ohio’ with its fierce electric guitars and ominous atmosphere.

‘Airplane’ shifts the mood to a yearning reflective ballad that, bolstered by Brittany has on dreamy fiddle, conjures passing thoughts of Guy Clarke as Rawlings passionately sings how “ life’s a bitch cause you don’t want me” and about having wings to escape from heartache. At five minutes the album’s longest track, ‘Lindsay Button’ is another minor key number. Featuring in his live sets last year, it’s a slow spiritual hymnal telling of the “pretty young girl” who “come’ down the mountain long time ago” and “carved two names in a white oak sapling” that essentially about the role of of folk music to preserve history.

Another steeped in old-time music, Kathy Secor on fiddle, ‘Come On Over My House’ is another upbeat good time track, the title pretty much speaking to the narrator’s intentions in inviting his honey to drop by. Things shift again for the electric guitar driven, nasally sung slow-paced southern country rock ‘Guitar Man’, not a Presley or Bread cover but with echoes of The Band clearly sounding as Welch provides the steady drum beat.

Two further playful numbers are set back to back, first up being the lurching rhythm ‘Yup’, Rawlings on scratch, Welch on bongos and Austin Hoke on saw on a tale about the devil visiting a farm to take away the scolding wife only to find she’s more than he bargained for, each line ending with Welch and Rawlings adding the titular interjection. The second also nods to biblical references with ‘Good God A Woman’, a jaunty jamboree spiritual romp about the “big man” needing to create woman from a rib bone to complete creation, saving the best until last.

Not a variation on Ry Cooder’s ‘Tamp ‘em Up Solid’, the album ends with ‘Put ‘em Up Solid’,  Rawlings on harmonium and Haas on fiddle for a simple acoustic folk hymnal about building a firm foundation, whether that’s for a building or a life. A fine companion piece to Nashville Obsolete, and, were it needed, a reminder that neither Rawlings nor Welch play second fiddle to the other.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.davidrawlingsmusic.com

‘Midnight Train’: