With help from longtime collaborator Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and his rustic Americana regain their footing | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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With help from longtime collaborator Gillian Welch, David Rawlings and his rustic Americana regain their footing

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Best known for his work with Gillian Welch, David Rawlings seemed intent on using his second album, 2015’s Nashville Obsolete, to differentiate himself from his partner and her sharp updates of American rural traditions. He ended up sounding lost and turbid, extending simple folk-rock themes into endless drones. With his terrific new Poor David’s Almanack (Acony), he’s regained his footing, distinguishing himself by putting his voice front and center. On a loose adaptation of the old folk tune “Cumberland Gap,” Welch’s biting harmonies remind the listener of their bond, and the song’s stripped-down groove and dark melody inject some of the horror of Neil Young’s “Ohio” into Rawlings’s invocation of the gap’s harrowing physical danger. Like Welch, Rawlings embraces the themes and basic language of folk music in his best material, speaking truths that remain undiminished with time. On “Lindsey Button,” he sings about a forgotten beauty who came down the mountain and turned heads in church, and “Yup” is a droll story of a farmer giving the devil his blessing to abscond with his wife—only to have Satan return her because “if I kept her there longer she’d a’ torn up Hell.” Rawlings plugs in his guitar here and there, but the bulk of the songs on Almanack keep it rustic, with skeletal arrangements played beautifully by a crack band that includes guitarist and fellow old-time traveler Willie Watson, Punch Brothers bassist Paul Kowert, and Crooked Still fiddler Brittany Haas—all of whom will join Welch and Rawlings live.   v

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