Welch’s rich and remarkable career spans over twenty years, and is a pillar of the modern acoustic music world. After moving to Nashville in the early 1990s, Welch was launched into the public consciousness when Emmylou Harris recorded a cover of Welch’s “Orphan Girl.” Her career continued to flourish as her 1996 debut Revival, produced by T Bone Burnett, was released to critical acclaim. Firmly on the roots music map following the release, Welch followed up that GRAMMY nominated album release with 1998’s Hell Among The Yearlings, a stark duet record with partner David Rawlings, further solidifying the duo as a force in the folk music scene. When Welch served as executive producer as well as a performer on the eight times platinum O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, she was awarded the Album of the Year GRAMMY Award win, and was simultaneously nominated for her own Time (The Revelator) which Rolling Stone called one of the best albums of the 2000s and is widely considered by critics to be one of the best albums of all time. This release was Welch-Rawlings’ first on their own record label, Acony Records, helping to establish the duo’s fierce independence. 2003’s Soul Journey was the pair’s first experimentation with a fuller, electric sound, which paved the way for the Dave Rawlings Machine project, and their first release under Rawlings’ name (A Friend of A Friend, 2009), which was accompanied by a period of time of heavy touring and headlining major festivals while biding their time to return to the duet sound the two were traditionally known for. 2011’s The Harrow and The Harvest felt like a sonic cultivation of what the two had been honing in on and perfecting for decades, and the awards circuit noticed, nominating the album for Best Contemporary Folk Album and Best Engineered Album at the GRAMMYs, Artist of the Year (Welch) and Instrumentalist of the Year (Rawlings) at the Americana Honors & Awards, along with glowing reviews and multiple mentions on year end “Best Of” lists. The duo returned to Rawlings’ moniker for their next two releases, 2015’s Nashville Obsolete and 2017’s Poor David’s Almanack (GRAMMY Nominated for “Best American Roots Song” for first single “Cumberland Gap“). In celebration of the twenty year anniversary of the Welch-Rawlings partnership, the two released the first installation of the “Boots” releases, “Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg,” a double album of unreleased outtakes, alternate versions, and demos from the making of the seminal 1996 debut album. This time period also saw the duo crowned with the Berklee American Masters Award and the honor of the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement for Songwriting. Welch and Rawlings continue to tour the world in support of their projects while simultaneously writing, lending their talents to countless fellow artist’s recordings, and working to release their highly celebrated catalog on phonograph record for the first time ever.
Grammy-nominated songwriter. Producer. Award-winning guitarist. Since kicking off his career with 1996’s Revival — an album billed under Gillian Welch’s name, but featuring the indispensable co-writing, harmony-singing and instrumental chops of her musical partner — David Rawlings has woven one of the most acclaimed paths in Americana music. He reaches a new destination with his third solo album, Poor David’s Almanack, whose songs point to a frontman who continues walking the fine line between rootsy revivalism and bold innovation.
This is a modern folk album that wears its old-school influences on its sleeve. Like Bob Dylan’s early work, Poor David’s Almanack looks to archetypal songs of the American roots-music catalog for inspiration, using them as launching points for a wildly original tracklist. The high-lonesome harmonies and acoustic fretwork of “Midnight Train” jumpstart the album on an earthy note, while “Airplane” — a southern ballad featuring a string section arranged by Rawlings himself — reaches skyward. Rawlings even evokes the call-and-response format of old field songs during the chorus of “Good God a Woman,” then serenades a lover with the fiddle-fueled, countryfied “Come Over My House.” Throughout its 10-song tracklist, Poor David’s Almanack sounds both fresh and familiar, offering new music rooted in the tradition, texture and twang of the folk songbook.
“This is new territory for me, with songs that stick much closer to classic folk melodies and classic folk structures,” he explains. “Before, if I’d wanted to sing a song like ‘Midnight Train,’ I would’ve covered a traditional song that already exists. This is the first time I looked at myself and thought, ‘Wait, if I want to play music like that, I should make it myself,’ because I love that kind of music and I want to be a creator of it. I want to try and inject some of myself into that folk bloodstream.”
A leader of the contemporary folk revival, Rawlings began releasing albums with Gillian Welch in the mid-’90s, championing a more acoustic-based sound during the heyday of grunge. For more than two decades since, he has juggled multiple roles as a frontman, duo partner, sideman and behind-the-scenes producer. His vocals can be heard on the Grammy-winning soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, whose multi-platinum sales and widespread popularity helped introduce old-time folk music to a 21st century audience, and his unique approach to the acoustic guitar has influenced a new generation of forward-thinking folkies, several of whom — including Dawes and Old Crow Medicine Show — have hired Rawlings to produce their own albums. Dawes’ Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith both make appearances on Poor David’s Almanack, as do multiple members of Old Crow’s past and present lineups, including Ketch Secor and Willie Watson. On an album filled with some of the brightest lights in Americana music, though, Rawlings’ star shines the strongest, whether he’s singing in a mercurial voice or leading his band through an instrumental section worthy of a front-porch picking party.
Half of Poor David’s Almanack was written alone — a first for Rawlings, who typically co-writes with Gillian Welch — and songs like “Money is the Meat in the Coconut” have already become staples of his live show, tossed into his setlist days after they were completed. Later, while recording the album to analog tape at Woodland Studios in East Nashville, Rawlings experimented with overdubs and other layered effects. Assisting him were a pair of top-shelf engineers: longtime collaborator Matt Andrews and legendary studio hand Ken Scott, whose work can be heard on landmark albums by the Beatles, David Bowie, and Elton John.
Influenced by new experiences, old sounds and classic books (including Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, whose title serves as the basis for Rawlings’ own album), Poor David’s Almanack nods to its source material without borrowing. It’s a nod to the past and a step toward the future. “Cumberland Gap,” with its electric guitar solos and coed harmonies, even evokes the California folk-rock of Fleetwood Mac, pushing Rawlings into ever-evolving territory.
“That’s the beautiful thing about this kind of music,” he says. “It’s supposed to be a chain. Maybe it’s supposed to be a chain that looks like a circle. We’re all looking for our best way to contribute to the great musical landscape. We’re all trying to raise some little part of that building.”