Gillian Welch – The Harrow & the Harvest

January 01, 1970



A harrow is an agricultural tool used to smooth out a
soilbed after plowing, breaking up dirt clods and prepping the seedbed – the
first step in working toward a harvest. Gillian Welch and her partner David
Rawlings understand the concepts well on their fifth LP. The duo rakes its
musical field down to little more than two guitars and voices, reaping a rich
harvest in the ten songs featured here. Carrying on the American folk
tradition, Welch and Rawlings delve deep into the collective psych of rural
denizens both past and present, turning up patches of light and (mostly)
darkness. “The Way It Goes” recounts murder in a former circle of friends with
some nimble picking and a traditional minor-key melody, while “Silver Dagger”
contemplates a more ambiguous evil, noting “Seems every castle is made of
sand/The great destroyer sleeps in every man.” “Six White Horses” echoes
old-time death ballads, while “The Way It Will Be” reminds a former significant
other that trust is dead forever with “The way you made it/That’s the way it
will be.” Welch seems to dwell more easily on misfortune and heartache – “Some
girls are bright as the morning and some have a dark turn of mind,” she notes
wryly early on. But she’s smart enough to assert, in the tune “Hard Times,” that
“We all get to heaven in our own sweet time” and “Hard times ain’t gonna rule
my mind.”


As always, the pair wrap their strings and larynxes ‘round
each other like the intimate companions they are, aided by production so warm
and inviting it’s like sitting in the room with them. That approach helps many
a bitter pill go down easy, making the plainspoken tragedies and uncertainties of
The Harrow
& the Harvest
sound like stories recounted years after the fact –
whether by toughened survivors or resigned ghosts is up to the listener to


Way It Will Be,” “Hard Times,” “Scarlet

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