Arts, Culture & Media

Gillian Welch's first album in eight years

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"The Harrow & The Harvest" album cover, Acony Records

This story was originally covered by PRI's Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

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"The Harrow & The Harvest" is the title of Gillian Welch's new release. According to the musician, the title has many meanings, but can also be taken literally: "It was a bit of a harrowing time -- this eight-year gap -- and then, luckily, there was a harvest at the end."

For eight years, the artist worked with other performers including Bright Eyes, The Decemberists, Nora Jones, and most consistently, her musical partner David Rawlings. While he usually plays back-up for Welch, in 2009, Rawlings debuted his first CD as a front man titled "A Friend of a Friend," with Welch in the supporting role. 

With Welch back at the helm, "The Harrow & The Harvest" is an example of the duo's eclectic music. "What we do is sort of born out of the rural American duet tradition -- The Monroe Brothers, the Stanley Brothers, The Everly Brothers, The Blue Sky Boys -- all these types of acoustic duos used to really be all over the radio, and in fact, all over pop music," says Welch. "But no one who ever heard us would ever confuse us with The Monroe brothers or The Blue Sky Boys. We're too interested in the modernity of our little guitar sound-scapes."

The musicians stay tied to their American roots by touring the roads instead of flying. Welch says that the trouble with flying is the tendency to "shut your brain down to just deal with it, and that's not a good thing for an artist to do."

Rawlings echoes her sentiments, and describes the opportunities for rich experiences when driving: "You know, you go drive over Salt Creek somewhere, and I'll think about the bluegrass song 'Salt Creek.' It's an amazing thing to see the way that music came out of the world, and then to be trying to add to it."

Although it's been a long intermission, Welch will always be a performer.  When talking about breaking into the industry, she says: "I don't think I ever had the option to give up. This is what we do, this is not actually a career, it's kind of a calling at this point."

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