Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dave Rawlings Machine - A Friend Of A Friend

Rawlings is probably best known for playing and recording with Gillian Welch, but he also contributed to Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker and Bright Eyes' Four Winds and Cassadaga.
This is his first record under his own name, but the primarily acoustic LP includes a lot of friends alluded to in the title. The singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is joined by Welch (who also co-wrote five of the nine songs with Rawlings) on all the tracks along with Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench on three of them, and Old Crow Medicine Show members adding fiddle and guitjo on many. Rawlings produced the album in Nashville.
Opener "Ruby," which features strings and Tench on organ, reminds me of The Band in its more laid-back moments. The more up-tempo "To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)" was co-written with Adams and is replete with banjo, fiddle and organ. The quiet but powerful "I Hear Them All" deals with suffering, tyranny and religion.
"Sweet Tooth" is gentle and playful musically, but seems to have a darker lyrical undercurrent. "How's About You" and  "It's Too Easy" are both classic-sounding and timeless country numbers.
"Monkey And The Engineer," written by one-man band Jesse Fuller (who died at the age of 79 in 1976) and probably best known by the Grateful Dead cover of it, is included here. It offers a lot of harmonica and fun. The album ends with the only track featuring drums, "Bells Of Harlem." Organ and strings also combine to make this a beautiful ballad.
The only place I feel the album falters just slightly is on the combination cover of Conor Oberst's "Method Acting" and Neil Young's "Cortez The Killer." It's certainly not bad, and Rawlings' voice has similar intonations as Young's in that section, it just didn't grab me as much as the rest of the record.
A Friend Of A Friend comes out on Nov.  17 via Acony Records, and there's a good chance it will be my favourite country album of the year (since I'm not classifying Mike Herrera's Tumbledown or Neko Case's Middle Cyclone as pure country records).

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