Gillian Welch, "The Harrow & the Harvest"

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Bare as any 78 recorded for a rural audience in the 1930s, Gillian Welch's first album in eight years, "The Harrow & the Harvest," is not only a welcome return to form but a reminder of the singular folksy style she has created with songwriting partner/guitarist David Rawlings. Crafted in Nashville, their graceful and elegant songs combine rhyme schemes, sentiments and a simple sonic palette of bygone eras to chilling effect; their influences hail from a time before TV, of isolated living where fortitude defined character. Transplants who have fully assimilated the South and its history, Welch and Rawlings evoke a surreal level of honesty. Their songs feel rooted in stories handed down from grandparents who worked the fields, danced at grange halls and counted the family Bible as their most treasured possession. The layered vocals from the duo on breakup ballad "The Way It Will Be" are the lone concession to a contemporary sound; the 10 songs here are otherwise timeless in their simplicity. Rawlings' guitar work is an engaging mix of the decorative and functional, marvelously recorded and a perfect balance to the warmth of Welch's vocals.