Saturday, December 19, 2009
Most of you reading this opening paragraph will be keen Gillian Welch fans and regard her erstwhile denim-clad offsider with no small degree of affection. Rawlings is a gifted guitarist and producer, notable for being almost ego-less with his keen attention to creating space and empowering simple melodies. A Friend of A Friend, his début album boasts a creation, Rawlings states, ‘was as much of a surprise to me as it was to anybody’. This easygoing nature gives the album an appealing quality, though anyone expecting a reprise of Time The Revelator may be disappointed; Welch appears in very much a supporting role, co-writing and faintly supporting his delivery. It is a long shadow that album casts and only rarely does A Friend of A Friend reach its spectacular heights.
Rawlings co-writes seven of the album’s nine songs and it’s commendable that these tracks sit happily alongside contributions from Jesse Fuller and an inspired segue of Conor Oberst’s Method Acting and Neil Young’s Cortez The Killer. The opening pair of Ruby and his Ryan Adams’ co-write To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high) allows the quality of his backing band (Welch, Bright Eyes’ Karl Himmel and Nate Walcott and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) to shine. You can expect Rawlings’ songs to be the unpretentious Americana that he is known for playing and they mine the rich seam with a reverence for its formalities while injecting it with his own straight-down-the-line integrity.
A recent interview with American Songwriter highlighted the tight-knit writing methods of Rawlings and Welch with their co-creations not being given a particular voice until well after completion. It’s been six years since a Welch album has been released so for a professional songwriter it’s understandable that some songs would have been written in that period, and, being Rawlings and Welch, damn good ones, which may lead to expectations being a little too high. There is none of Welch’s lingering darkness here, in fact, the Jesse Fuller cover The Monkey and the Engineer goes out of its way to show ‘hey, we can crack a smile too’. There is also soul influence to some of Rawlings’ songs Bells of Harlem and opener Ruby, but it’s still a very much ‘what you see is what you get’ package, and I doubt fans would want it any other way.