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David Rawlings David Rawlings
Album: Poor David's Almanack
Label: Acony
Tracks: 10

Almost exactly two years ago, using the loose band context of his so-called Machine, David Rawlings released the fascinatingly hybrid, if at times maybe slightly impenetrable, album Nashville Obsolete. Scarcely had that album rolled off the presses when he began composing the songs which have found their way onto Poor David's Almanack, and there's certainly a great sense of continuity in the overall feel and style of the material. Several of the songs are themselves inspired by traditional stories and songs, and the authentic vibe of roots Americana tradition in all its guises is heard to strongly permeate much of the album.

Each of its ten tracks seems to transport us back into a different retro world, albeit with tradition stalking the lyrics and settings all the while. Most notably perhaps in the album's longest (at five minutes) track, the slow-drag retelling of the tale of Lindsey Button, which is audibly steeped in the ballad-refrain tradition; and on the other hand, the heartache-infused reflections of Airplane (which, less expectedly, boasts a rather delicious string arrangement). But it's not a gloomy set by any means, with the uptempo good-time invite to Come On Over My House bolstered by no fewer than three examples of old-timey-style cornball humour: there's devil-done-by-wife tale Yup and fun Biblical-creation-tale Good God A Woman, and the playful-homily hoedown Money Is The Meat In The Coconut which comes complete with animated handclaps-and-foot-stamp percussion courtesy of Gillian Welch.

Inevitably, as befits a long-time musical partner, Gillian features heavily on all tracks, contributing guitar, occasional bass, drums and assorted and above-mentioned percussion; she's also co-written half of the songs. Three musicians from Machine (Willie Watson, Paul Kowert and Brittany Haas) also play quite a bit on the album, and other guests dropping in include OCMS's Ketch Secor and Taylor & Griffin Goldsmith. David's own guitar filigree is omnipresent, but subtly so, as a background colour for most of the time and virtually no soloing to speak of - except on opener Midnight Train, where every note of his break is timed to perfection. Even so, it provides a kind of continuity of intent that's just there naturally, already in place and timeless - part of which impression is probably down to the faithful, honest-to-goodness analog recording.

You need to be warned, I guess, that the presence of a familiar title on the tracklist does not denote a retread of the song of that name - far from it! For instance, Cumberland Gap is not the old Lonnie Donegan hit (albeit inspired by it) with a pronounced West Coast/CSNY feel, Guitar Man is neither Presley nor Eddy but a brand new Rawlings-Welch co-write, tho' more like electric Neil Young in sound; and Put 'Em Up Solid is not Ry Cooder's Tamp 'Em Up Solid but a cross between The Band and a moody spiritual - and a brilliantly judged closer to the record.

David Kidman