Fans of Gillian Welch, the beloved Nashville singer-songwriter who has been a force in the Americana music scene for nearly two decades, have been plenty patient when it comes to waiting for her new album.
Eight years have passed since Welch released her fourth studio album, "Soul Journey."
That kind of time span between album releases does nothing but raise expectations when a new album finally comes down the pike.
Last week, Welch released "The Harrow & The Harvest," and the question on everyone's mind is, "Was it worth the wait?"
Well, yes and no.
For fans of Welch's first two albums, "Revival" and "Hell Among the Yearlings," the new album will come as a refreshing step back. Its stripped down arrangements will also please fans of Welch and musical partner David Rawlings' live shows.
For Welch's fans who were looking for the more modern sound found on "Revelator" and "Soul Journey," there is nothing on the new album as striking as "Elvis Presley Blues," "One Monkey" or "My First Lover" were on those previous releases.
For Americana fans who like their Gillian dark and slow, "The Harrow & The Harvest" is just what the doctor ordered, especially if your doctor tends to prescribe elixirs distilled in Tennessee.
"Tennessee figures prominently in the new songs," Welch said. "The truth is, we absented ourselves from Nashville for a while, to escape the weight of home and studio and record label. But I think our thoughts turned back there with a newness and clarity I hadn't felt since I moved there almost 20 years ago."
Simply adorned with vocals, guitar, banjo and harmonica, "The Harrow & The Harvest" has a distinctly old-fashioned, acoustic feel to it. "Down Along the Dixie Line" sounds as if it could have been written Stephen Foster, and "Hard Times," with its plaintive melody and simple banjo and guitar accompaniment, could have easily made itself at home in the Carter Family canon.
"Silver Dagger" finds the Welch-Rawlings songwriting team leaning heavily on "You Are My Sunshine" to create their own beautiful tune that has happy lyrics juxtaposed on a sad melody.
"Dave says this record is '10 different kinds of sad,' but it's not without humor," Welch said. "I feel like there's a maturity in it in the folk tradition, and using its language combined with our own."
Added Rawlings, "That's the whole point of the folk tradition."
"The Harrow & The Harvest" breaks no new ground for Welch and Rawlings, and that is exactly the point. Their fans have developed a deep attachment to her lachrymose lyrics, his inimitable guitar runs and the duo's country creek pure vocal harmonies. In those regards, the album delivers. Big time.
"As a songwriting team, we are more seamless and fluid than ever before," Rawlings said. "It's nearly impossible to unravel who wrote what word, what line, what sentiment."
Added Welch, "It's truly immaterial at this point. When Dave and I really get down to work, it's like we're in a lifeboat, like we're the only two people in the world, and it is very quiet. I think some of that quietness comes through on these recordings."
The release of "The Harrow & The Harvest" coincides with Welch and Rawlings' latest national tour. Area dates include stops in Raleigh (Aug. 3), Winston-Salem (Aug. 4), Asheville (Aug. 5) and Bristol, TN (Aug. 23). For more information, visit http://www.gillianwelch.com.