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CD Review: David Rawlings Machine

David Rawlings Machine – “Friend of a Friend”

Out now

It’s been six long years since Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have released an album.

Their avid fans, us included, have been asking – no – begging for some new music. Yes, we have scoured YouTube for clips of a tune we call “Throw Me a Rope.” We have downloaded various quality concert audio of another unrecorded tune called “Knuckleball Catcher.” And we have gone faithfully to their performances at the Newport Folk Festival, the Big Surprise Tour, and anywhere else within a 100-mile radius.

And yet we kept wondering: Where is the new album? Well, it arrived recently. It wasn’t what we expected, but it was more than a pleasant surprise.

Instead of Gillian at the helm, Dave Rawlings gets a chance to be the frontman of his first Dave Rawlings Machine album, “Friend of a Friend.”

The album continues the duo’s basic sound – a mix of old-timey, country and bluegrass – adding fiddle, banjo, and bass from their friends in the band Old Crow Medicine Show. Dave’s soprano voice takes the lead throughout with Gillian providing the backup. It’s a nice change that works well especially on the slower numbers, like the opener “Ruby.” You’d expect Dave’s guitar to be showcased, but that really isn’t the case here. He gets a few licks here and there but for the most part, he keeps the band orientation front and center. Other songs that stand out are his upbeat, Ryan Adams collaboration “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High),” the hoedown “It’s Too Easy,” and the standard “Monkey and the Engineer.”

The highlight of the album is Dave’s “Method Acting/Cortez the Killer” pairing, a 10-minute dream that bridges the generation gap between Bright Eyes and Neil Young. A great combo. We saw this done live and it really is mesmerizing.

While this album not quite what we expected, it’s nice to hear new tunes from these guys. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another six years for Gillian to come out with her new album!

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