Gillian Welch | The Vic | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Gillian Welch All Ages Early Warnings (Music) Soundboard

When: Fri., July 22, 7:30 p.m. 2011

It’s been eight years since Gillian Welch released Soul Journey, where she departed from her usual austerity by touching on autobiography rather than archetypes and fleshing out the arrangements with a relative mob of guest musicians. On her stunning new The Harrow & the Harvest (Acony) she’s reverted to form, working with longtime partner David Rawlings and no one else. As usual, most of their songs sound as old as the hills, with a stripped-down efficiency that recalls American folk music forms from nearly a century ago (the melody of “Silver Dagger,” for example, sounds more than a little like “You Are My Sunshine”). The beauty of Welch’s writing, darker than ever here, transcends time and place, and though certain details evoke lost eras—she’s been been criticized before for sounding too strictly historical—her themes cut to the heart of human nature. That said, the album’s best song is also its most contemporary sounding (a relative term in this case). Welch and Rawlings deliver “The Way It Will Be” in gorgeous unison, and the keening melody sounds like something from the folk rock of the 70s, not from five decades earlier. The lyrics circle around a troubled relationship in which some awful yet unspoken act has occurred: “I can’t say your name without a crow flying by,” they sing. “Got me walking backwards into my hometown.” That sort of tension-producing ambiguity makes era or style almost superfluous. Welch performs tonight as part of a duo with Rawlings. —Peter Margasak

Price: $30

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