I have to be honest here, when I heard the release of the first track from ‘Nashville Obsolete’ I wasn’t as sold as I should have been. The Weekend was a far more polished and produced sound than I was familiar with from Rawlings. That rawness, the dissonance in the playing that shouldn’t make sense musically but somehow does in the way that the singer and guitarist balances each note, fluidly running across each fret, pausing in just the right places and bending the notes until they are in line, or inserting those notes that cause an unrest that eventually resolves. The tension in Dave’s playing that makes it so interesting. I was afraid it would be lost in the mix behind the more robust arrangements…but alas, upon revisiting, this isn’t a changing of a style, its simply an evolution. An evolution that equates to some really fantastic music and an allstar cast of musicians lending their talents to the always wonderful collaboration between Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch.
In that first released track, Rawlings takes on an almost Neil Young flavor to his voice. Gillian’s voice floats in and out and the string arrangements don’t detract from the sound I am used to, but only elevate it to show the dynamic range of the musician.
‘The Trip’ is just that. A meandering narrative that is very reminiscent of Dylan in the style of prose that the singer delivers each spoken line. This track feels the most like the “old Machine” of the bunch. Welch adds in the perfect harmony at all the right moments and Dave’s guitar sails on top of guitars, bass, fiddle and mandolin pickin’ along the backdrop.
All in all, despite the addition of more strings and parts the music here still harkens back to that throwback vibe and tin-typed, unrefined nature that pays homage to roots and folk music. Rawlings voice manages to have a power and strength that is stretched to a point where it seems fragile and subtle, with its natural breaks and interweaving with the music around it…and the vocal harmonies as always are a thing of pure magic and joy. The signature Rawlings lead is woven throughout the 7 tracks contained here on ‘Obsolete’ and the songwriter’s ability to throw a hook into a chorus that sits deep inside of a tale in his story songs is really something wonderful.
If you were like me and took an almost immediate “this isn’t the Dave Rawlings I know and love” walled off approach, I beg you give this a couple of listens. And if you share my current sentiment in that this is a great addition to the songs I already love from the writer, well then, lets keep on listening to a record that further cements Rawlings as one of the biggest talents in roots musci today. I suppose you will agree in saying that ‘Nashville Obsolete’ is anything but…
Dave Rawlings Machine is in town at The Wilbur on November 16th and tickets can still be had at: http://thewilbur.com/artist/dave-rawlings-machine/ …so you should probably get on that. Here’s to hoping we get a full orchestra behind the band on Short Haired Women, eh?