David Rawlings – Poor David’s Almanack

Album Review | Acony | Review by Steve Henderson | Stars: 4/5

Some years ago, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings were at the forefront of a resurgence in the interest around American traditional music and its roots.  It was a similar reaction against the schmaltzy aspects of Nashville to the one pushed forward by ‘outlaw’ and ‘new’ country acts before them.  Though new recordings from Gillian Welch have been limited in recent years, David Rawlings has released a couple of albums under the name of the Dave Rawlings Machine.  Now, back with his full first name but having discarded the machine, Rawlings has released Poor David’s Almanack.  Like the other records released under his name, there is a much wider palette of material than that you’d expect from a record carrying Gillian Welch’s name on its cover.  That’s not to say that she’s absent from the record.  Indeed, she is listed as co-writer on five of the tracks and adds her distinctive harmony vocal all over the place.  In what was, by today’s standards, a short recording period of a week or so, the enthusiasm of all concerned bubbles up across the record.  Much of that must come from the closeness of the musicians on board for the ride with such as Willie Watson and Brittany Haas as well as members of Dawes, The Punch Brothers and Old Crow Medicine show.  While the name at the fore of this record may have changed slightly, the approach is like earlier releases from the Dave Rawlings Machine.  That means you’ll hear everything from a stripped back sound to a full-on band treatment of the songs at hand.  “Money Is The Meat in the Coconut” is a childlike romp that could pass itself off as intended for a classroom singalong.  With “Yup”, we have an equally simple feel to the chorus drawn from the song’s title but, lyrically, it tells more of a sinister tale.  Its eerie use of a musical saw just goes to emphasise the juxtaposition in the feel to these songs – contrasts being something that pervades the whole album.  On the sleeve notes, there is an admission that several of the songs are loosely based on traditional stories and songs though this stops short of any credits to traditional arrangement.  Lindsey Button has the strongest traditional feel to it though Airplane with its stripped back sound runs it a close second and could have fitted as neatly on a Gillian Welch record.  Elsewhere, on the track Cumberland Gap, you could be listening to a contemporary Neil Young song – indeed, his “Cortez The Killer” popped up on an earlier Dave Rawlings Machine record.  So, lots of contrast on this record whether in the arrangement of the songs or the nature of the songs themselves and their lyrics.  The variety brings with it a richness that lovers of rootsy Americana will enjoy to the full.