Slowing down worked out for Gillian Welch

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      “I’d like to tell you that I took a fantastic six-year vacation,” says Gillian Welch, calling the Straight from a Portland, Oregon, tour stop. “But that’s not what happened.”

      The Nashville-based singer-songwriter is attempting to account for the long hiatus between her last record, 2003’s Soul Journey, and her just-released The Harrow & the Harvest. But maybe the new album’s title is all the explanation necessary: this welcome return came after years of hard, harrowing, and often fruitless labour, but its yield is golden.

      “All we do is work on music and play music,” Welch says, speaking for herself and her musical partner, guitarist David Rawlings. “So this whole time we’ve just been playing music and writing songs, but it wasn’t until the last year that we wrote a body of work that we really liked.

      “When it really started to come together was when we stopped hurrying,” she continues. “I think we’d gotten so uptight about wanting there to be a record that anytime we had an idea, we just pounced on it. Some of that hurrying was getting into the songs and just kind of ruining them. So, as funny as it sounds, we had to slow down.”

      As Welch notes, “If there’s one thing our songs aren’t, it’s hurried.” Consequently, The Harrow & the Harvest is full of numbers that are both subtly imaginative and deliciously out of time. “Scarlet Town” sounds like a lost English ballad miraculously rediscovered in some Tennessee mountain hamlet. “The Way It Will Be” is a throwback to all the things that were good about the ’70s singer-songwriters, without their sentimentality. “Hard Times” stands comparison to the Stephen Foster song of the same name. And even the record’s most contemporary-sounding number—“The Way It Goes”, with its litany of overdoses and bankruptcies—crams a lifetime’s worth of observation into what could otherwise be construed as a very bad week.

      “One of the things that I’m guilty of is I’ll condense 20 years of experience in a song, and I’ll make it all overlap,” says Welch. “You know what I mean? It’s very rare for me to actually put a story just in a straightforward way in a song. I kind of think I’m too private a person. But everything comes from my experience, or my world around me.”

      Intuitive or otherwise, it’s a strategy that allows Welch to fold plain truths and puzzling mysteries into a single lyric—and another reason why The Harrow & the Harvest has been well worth waiting for.

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