Dave Rawlings has, for years, been one of the most respected instrumentalists in contemporary folk and roots music. As Gillian Welch
's collaborative music partner, Rawlings has charmed and impressed audiences with his dexterity on guitar. Now with his own outfit, the Dave Rawlings Machine, he's released one of the finest "debut" albums of recent note.
Traditional Folk Made New Again
It's near impossible to call A Friend of a Friend
a debut album. The folk world has held a rather lengthy love affair with Dave Rawlings. In his work as Welch's musical partner, as well as that of producer and the contributions he's made to the work of other artists like Robyn Hitchcock and Bright Eyes, Rawlings has shown impeccable taste and artistic judgment. He's aligned himself with projects which have been teeming with integrity, and has proven a knack for updating traditional music styles without losing sight of the power of tradition.
All these elements come to light on A Friend of a Friend. There's the traditional country bent of "How's About You," where the theme of going broke feels as relevant now as it could have in the days to which the song's aesthetic alludes. "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" is another outstanding classic-style country song, written by Ryan Adams and covered exceptionally well for this project. Welch's backing vocals add a lot to this tune, as they do throughout the record. It's always interesting to hear a lead singer and backing vocalist trade places, but the synergy between Welch and Rawlings is so fierce, they do so seamlessly.
Guest Stars and Other Highlights
It's hardly surprising that a talent as behemoth as Rawlings' could pull out some impressive personnel to back him on his "debut" "solo" album. In addition to the contributions from Welch (at perhaps the most memorable on "Sweet Tooth," as it features only their two voices and a single guitar), A Friend of a Friend
showcases Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Nate Walcott (Bright Eyes), Karl Himmel (Neil Young
), and members of Old Crow Medicine Show
(for whom he's acted as producer in the past, and who were no doubt happy to return the favor).
It's also hardly surprising that Rawlings made an album which is, from start to finish, absolutely devoid of dull moments. Stylistically, the disc runs the gamut from like-the-Eagles (album opener "Ruby") to like-Gillian Welch, like-Woody Guthrie, like-Bob Dylan, and beyond. Long story short, fans of all manner of traditional and contemporary American roots music would be doing themselves a disservice if they were to skip out on this recording. Here's hoping it's not the last we hear from the Dave Rawlings Machine, even if it takes another decade.