Music Review: Dave Rawlings Machine shifts into deep South

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Dave Rawlings Machine, "Nashville Obsolete" (Acony Records)

Dave Rawlings' recent gigs with the Machine had an almost hootenanny feel, sprinkled with songs from the Machine's 2009 album, Dylan, Zeppelin and Levon Helm covers, as well as traditional tunes and bluegrass. They were an upbeat counterpart to the darkly contemplative music Rawlings and Gillian Welch make under her name, and left many Machine fans yearning for a similarly lively live album.

"Nashville Obsolete," Dave Rawlings Machine's new album, is not that record.

The title and eerie Daguerreotype-style album cover suggest a departure and entry into a Southern gothic realm, and the best songs confirm it, weaving languid, intricate tales of bodysnatchers, bad romances, rootlessness and broken dreams. Though just seven selections, recorded in Nashville, this isn't a slim album. At nearly 44 minutes, it's a vivid journey through a bedeviled, bygone world punctuated by Rawlings' mellow tenor and wicked picking, all grounded by Welch's plaintive harmony and steady strumming.

Odd and atmospheric, "Bodysnatchers" sounds nothing like the similarly titled Radiohead song, telling of sinister visitors to Mississippi River towns, with Welch's voice a haunting echo, and background strings an ominous vibe.

Old Crow Medicine Show co-founder Willie Watson, of the first Machine album and Rawlings' recent tour, contributes vocals and guitar to a few tracks, including "Short Haired Woman Blues," notable for a riff reminiscent of Neil Young's "My My, Hey Hey" and Dylan-esque vocals from Rawlings. Another Machine tour veteran, bass player Paul Kowert of Punch Brothers, also makes a guest appearance.

Brittany Haas, recently of progressive bluegrass band Crooked Still, adds a lush fiddle, most memorably on "The Trip," a nearly 11-minute saga also featuring Jordan Tice on mandolin. Rawlings and Welch open with dulcet instrumentals, and midway through, you'll be singing along with their wistful chorus: "...It's much too hard to try to live a lie at home."

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