Gillian Welch

The Harrow & The Harvest

On June 28, the day Gillian Welch’s new album was released, hundreds of other titles were also washing out into the marketplace. I counted more than 800 before I quit, a tsunami of music that would overwhelm the interest and the available time of even the most obsessive music lover. Time is precious, but missing out on this first Welch album in eight years would be a significant oversight for anyone who cares about American music. As its title implies, The Harrow and the Harvest is soil-deep. It’s country music minus the glitz. The 10 songs on this album all convey the raw power of rural poetry, a Southern Gothic world of pain, joy, love and losses. It’s not music for a Saturday night; it’s music for a Sunday morning of reflection and feeling. From “Scarlet Town,” the first track, to “The Way the Whole Thing Ends,” the last, the listener is treated to a song cycle that can be traced back to the tradition of “Lord Randall” and other ballads and songs sung by English country folk long ago. Listeners aren’t likely to make a better choice among those hundreds of June 28 releases.