Review: The Harrow & The Harvest

Apple pie, Sunday school, confession, and shining railroad tracks are just some of the images that evoke a simpler time and place in The Harrow & The Harvest. The album is the first offering from Gillian Welch and her songwriting partner, Dave Rawlings, since 2003.

The album itself is the picture of the American folk spirit. Welch and Rawlings use simple language and streamlined instrumentation. Most tracks have the feel of being recorded on the back porch after dinner—with soft guitars, tight harmonies, and an occasional banjo or harmonica.

Harrow kicks off with “Scarlet Town,” an English folk-style ditty, echoing a tune that could have been several hundred years older. “That’s the Way It Will Be” is a darker song about a lover who’s walked away. Its sadness and hints of resentment ring true: “You took all the glory that you just couldn’t share/I’ve never been so disabused; never been so mad.”

“Down Along the Dixie Line” has a measured, lullaby-like pace that takes the listener through the favorite haunts of a childhood home, and mourns the inability to return to those places. “Hard Times,” arguably the best song on the album, calls for expressions of joy—singing and dancing—in the face of sorrow and hardship.

A few higher tempo, bluegrass pieces shine on the album as well. “Six White Horses,” with its banjo, harmonica, and simple hand-clapping beat is very similar in tune and style to Welch’s cover of “I’ll Fly Away,” featured on 2001’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.

But even on the brighter tracks, the songs remain haunting and lyrical. Welch’s voice echoes with a longing for every tear to be wiped away.

In many churches today the arts are an afterthought at best and forbidden at worst. This insightful book takes you beyond "how we've always done it," to develop a vision for the place of the arts—and artists—in our churches.