The Harrow & The Harvest
(Acony / Warner Brothers)
"This record is 10 different kinds of sad", Welch's musical partner, David Rawlings, has said of The Harrow & The Harvest. Given that lyric topics on the duo's 1998 outing Hell Among the Yearlings included murder and a mining accident, the new one's melancholia is unsurprising. It's a work that casts a spell, however, its quiet intensity tangible on 10 intimate, darkly beautiful songs that are (mostly) rooted in the Appalachian music of the eastern United States. Put simply, it's hard to imagine a better folk album being released this year.
The material was recorded live and there are no overdubs. In The Way It Will Be, a gossamer-light thing of disarming potency, you can hear that Welch and Rawlings are utterly lost in the moment, while in Scarlet Town, Rawlings's magical acoustic guitar runs have a dulcimer-like quality. It's the sheer class of the duo's writing that impresses most, though: witness Dark Turn of Mind and Silver Dagger, songs so neatly turned and familiar-sounding they might have been penned by some venerable country great.
As the album's title suggests, this bountiful crop was a long time coming. After eight years of false starts and jettisoned recordings, Welch and Rawlings have finally made an album that's every bit as good as 2001's Grammy-nominated Time (The Revelator).
Pint Of Blood
Once part of the folk/country act The Be Good Tanyas, Jolie Holland won praise from Tom Waits for her solo debut Catalpa in 2003. Album five is a lo-fi alt-country affair, its stand-out track All Those Girls, whose protagonist finds herself the latest in a chain of fools. In Remember, Holland's voice may sound a little too stylised for some, but she's good at finding fresh angles on that old devil called love. While Pint Of Blood doesn't lack fangs, it does want for consistency.