Call it soul music for soulless times: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings dazzled a devoted crowd on Thursday July 7 with a beautiful bluegrass showcase carried out with hefty Nashville flair. With songs of love and loss, murder and redemption, the duo created evocative atmosphere in the Warfield Theater despite their minimalist setup at center stage.
Playing two sets of about a dozen songs each, Welch and Rawlings made it through their entire new album, The Harrow & the Harvest. Yes, the songs from the duo's 2001 album, Time (The Revelator) were all stellar, just as other crowd pleasers like “Miss Ohio” and “I’ll Fly Away” were well-received by the audience. But it was the new material that proved the most compelling and even claimed some of the biggest ovations of the night; mostly noticeably “Six White Horses,” for which Welch played percussion on her thigh and then performed a barn dance jig while Rawlings drove it all along on banjo and harmonica.
With their deft ability to conjure up heavy moods through their music, Welch and Rawlings took the atmosphere in the theater from the Southern glory of the Grand Ole Opry to the whiskey-fueled knife fights of a Barbary Coast saloon. It’s what the duo does best, shaking out a timeless sort of salt-of-the-earth Americana through their music – soulful harmonies matched by stirring melodies.
Having explored a wide range of their catalogue and worked through three encores, the duo sent the audience off with the heavy morphine drip waltz of The Harrow and the Harvest’s final track, singing - “that’s the way the corn bread crumbles/that’s the way the whole thing end."