David Rawlings: Poor David’s Almanack

David Rawlings
Poor David’s Almanack
(Acony)
3.5 out of 5 stars

Over the past decade, ever since releasing the first album under his own name — 2009’s Friend Of A Friend – David Rawlings has gradually emerged in his partnership with Gillian Welch as the duo’s primary vocal outlet. Though it often seems as though the only discernible difference between albums under Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings is who happens to be singing lead, three of their past four albums have been released under Rawlings’ name.

Poor David’s Almanack takes a more full-band approach toward Welch and Rawlings’ neo-traditionalist American roots music. Enlisting longtime collaborators like Willie Watson, Brittany Haas and Ketch Secor, Rawlings runs through a mix of light folk-rock, orchestrated country-soul, traditional country-gospel, and folksy low-country blues.

When recording under the Rawlings name, Welch and Rawlings are freer to toy around musically and stray from the note-perfect craftsmanship of the acoustic duo format they tend to stick to when performing as Gillian Welch.  Poor David’s Almanack, for instance, features plenty of electric guitar, full string sections, rollicking fiddle and ramshackle three-part harmonies. 

A large component of Rawlings and Welch’s musical/historical project with their David Rawlings’ releases is their repeated insistence that in traditional music, there’s no such thing as a novelty song. Like on past comical high-dramas like 2009’s “Sweet Tooth” and 2015’s “Candy,” new numbers like “Yup,” “Good God A Woman” and “Money Is The Meat In The Coconut” are humorous, deadpan allegories that often tell deeper stories of lust, greed sex, and violence.

What’s so profoundly American about these songs are the way they often deploy humorous metaphor and simple, child-like storytelling devices to convey deeper, darker truths. Other times, the songs are simply funny stories without a larger lesson. In this way, Dave Rawlings records exist as an important counterweight to the inherent gravitas and high stakes seriousness in Gillian Welch albums.

An earlier version of this review listed Griffin and Taylor Goldsmith as producers of the album. The album was produced by David Rawlings and engineered by Ken Scott and Matt Andrews.