Poor David's Almanack marks David Rawlings' fourth headline date, and he leaves his Machines out of the studio. That said, his singing and songwriting partner Gillian Welch is here as always on harmony vocals and percussion. She also co-wrote five of these ten songs. It's difficult to discern how the pair divide the creative labor and its accreditation, but it must make sense to them.
Produced by Rawlings and engineered by Ken Scott (David Bowie) and Matt Andrews, these tunes are arranged to reflect not only Rawlings considerable gifts as a guitarist, but the fleshed-out sound of a full band that easily balances American folk music and roots rock (the DRM will be playing these songs on the road). Other contributors include fiddler Brittany Haas, Willie Watson, Old Crow Medicine Show, Dawes, and Punch Brothers' bassist Paul Kowert.
Opener "Midnight Train" hovers between country gospel and country blues. It's the first instance we hear the gorgeous entwining of Welch's and Watson's voices in harmony supporting Rawlings' slippery drawl. Haas' fiddle and Rawlings' lead guitar share breakdown space in front of Watson's banjo in the hokum blues "Money Is the Meat in the Coconut," a seemingly simple allegory that barely disguises the lusty overtones in its lyrics. "Cumberland Gap" is framed in stark, minor-key folk-rock with a popping bassline, and wound-out electric guitars and drums; it owes a deep debt to Neil Young. The highlight here is "Airplane," a tender yet passionate country-soul tune that employs a string section framing the lovely harmony singing and Haas' solo. It features the most passionate lead vocal Rawlings has ever delivered. "Guitar Man" is another rocker; it could have come right from the Band's fakebook and briefly references "The Weight." At five minutes, "Lindsay Button," sung with the refrain placed after every line, is the set's longest track and it feels like it. "Yup" and "Good God a Woman," come from the same humorous terrain that "Money Is the Meat in the Coconut" does, and like it, they offer something lyrically darker underneath all that sprightly playing and singing. "Put Em Up Solid" is a tender meld of country-gospel and folk. The harmonies frame Rawlings' vocal in a basket of sweetness and light as sweeping fiddle, strummed guitars, and banjo cover the backdrop. It's very difficult to argue with what Rawlings and company have assembled here. Aside from one misstep (that, to be fair, others might find less wearying), it's every bit as good as Nashville Obsolete.