The Dave Rawlings Machine started "accidentally," according to Gillian Welch's longtime musical partner, as a vehicle to semi-anonymously road test some new material. But with the Nov. 17 release of "A Friend of a Friend," Rawlings will take the spotlight in his own right.
"You start out singing other people's songs 'cause you love them, and at some point you start to feel like you'd like to sing some of your own," Rawlings tells Billboard.com. "I think that happens to most people. It's just happening to me much later."
Rawlings produced "A Friend of a Friend" himself, recording it earlier this year at RCA Studio B in Nashville. Welch appears on eight of the nine tracks (and co-wrote five of them), while other players include keyboardist Benmont Tench from Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, keyboardist Nathaniel Wilcott of Bright Eyes and members of Old Crowe Medicne Show, whose self-titled 2004 debut and 2006 album "Big Iron World" was produced by Rawlings.
Among the songs are a version of "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" that Rawlings co-wrote with Ryan Adams' for the latter's "Heartbreaker" album, a Rawlings-Welch composition called "It's Too Easy" that will appear on the latter's album in "a very different version" and a pairing of Bright Eyes' "Method Acting" with Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" that Rawlings says was inspired during a tour he did with Conor Oberst and company in Mike Mogis' stead a couple of years back.
"One of the songs we played every night was 'Method Acting,' which was always a song I responded to," Rawlings recalls. "I found myself sitting on a couch a year later, strumming it...and at some point I realized it went into 'Cortez the Killer,' which was a really important song for me when I was a teenager. I have a really emotional attachment to both of those songs, so it's nice to have versions of them out there. It gives me a reason to sing them."
Rawlings says Oberst also suggested the "A Friend of a Friend" title for the project. "I thought it was nice and appropriate," Rawlings notes, "because so many people I've worked with over the years and played music with are represented in one way or another on the record." Rawlings plans to tour to support the album, with Southeast and Midwest dates in late November and December and a West Coast run in 2010. The Machine lineup will feature Welch and three members of Old Crow Medicine Show -- fiddler Ketch Secor, who co-wrote the track "I Hear Them All," guitarist Willie Watson and bassist Morgan Jahnig.