It would be inaccurate to call The Harrow & The Harvest a concept album, but many of the songs—most notably the progressively titled “The Way It Goes,” “The Way It Will Be” and “The Way The Whole Thing Ends”—are subtly connected by themes of coming to terms with the past and finding the resolve to move on. Listening to these songs, one can hear that the eight years taken between releases has caused Gillian Welch to ruminate and pour all of her weighing up and accounting of life’s sad twists and turns into one of her best albums. The Harrow & The Harvest is simply one of the richest, most expansive roots albums to be released in some time.
And yet, on repeated listens The Harrow & the Harvest feels more mysterious than this asceticism suggests. It is replete with events alluded to, but unsung. Many of their albums are like this – carefully written to sound like folk manuscripts handed down across the ages, illuminated by Rawlings’s eloquent guitar. And yet The Harrow is especially full of drama that occurs off-camera. It is the best kind of record: one that lures you in and soothes you with harmonies and banjo, only to leave you wondering what the hell just happened.
Long trafficking in a sometimes spare yet intricately drawn sort of Americana that could fit just as comfortably at the turn of the 20th century, their latest delivers the same deceptively simple alchemy of dustily lilting voices, vivid lyrical twists and crisp acoustic flourishes.
And yet The Harrow & The Harvest doesn’t seem all that substantial. It’s the perfect record for front-porch reading on a warm summer afternoon, in large part because it doesn’t command attention. At her best, Welch is never mere background music.
Folk Alley: http://www.folkalley.com/archives/001204.php
At first listen, The Harrow and the Harvest is a very good record, but it seems like not much has changed for Welch in the past eight years. Give it a second and third run, and the songs begin to assault you one at a time. The fourth and fifth times through, it’s a sentimental experience. But, if you keep listening, you find the disc revealing layers upon layers – a tall order for a disc which mostly just includes two voices and two stringed instruments (with an exception or two here and there).
The interplay between Welch and David Rawlings’s guitars is dazzlingly expert as they dance around the slow, melancholy beauty of Welch’s voice. There cannot be another musical duet around at the moment who are able to make two acoustic guitars and two voices produce a sound that is so subtle and yet powerful….This is American folk music at its very best.
Dusted Magazine: http://www.dustedmagazine.com/reviews/6516
Even if it fails to meet impossibly high expectations, The Harrow & The Harvest offers a handful of keepers while moving Welch and Rawlings (hopefully) past their writers’ block. Nevertheless, you can hear in these songs that this crop required backbreaking work to deliver. Here’s hoping that next time they drop the harrow and go gather some of the wild stuff growing by the creek.
This album abandons any trace of the full band sound found on Soul Journey, which featured drums and electric guitar, and instead plucks along with the spotlight on Welch’s songwriting, Rawlings’ masterful guitar work, and their vocals that harmonize in lockstep throughout. And while Gillian’s songs are outstanding in their own right, what’s more amazing is the synthesis of these two incredible musicians and their ability to take seemingly simple folk arrangements and turn them into something awe-inspiring.
The gospel according to Welch and Rawlings is one that embraces darkness alongside light, pain alongside joy, the briar as one with the rose, clear-eyed truth and hazy obfuscation. As a gathering-in of all that’s best about their duality, The Harrow & The Harvest eschews the cosmic Plough and settles instead for the blessings of a more earthly crop.