Poor David’s Almanack (Acony)
A good almanack has tales of recent pasts and some predictions for the future, summaries of the latest information and estimates built on such knowledge, the good news and the bad, wisdoms from the familiar and humour from the natural.
It serves as a resource for any and all members of the household in some way, available for the year ahead to be dipped into when appropriate. It tells you something of the world in which it exists. It does good work. It lasts.
Poor David’s Almanack is not quite an update of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack (is this where we start singing “it’s all about the Benjamins? No? Ok.): there’s not enough crop rotation information for my liking.
However, David Rawlings – which is the alternate name of the two-headed beast also known as Gillian Welch, except with Welch now on supporting vocals and Rawlings on lead - has made an album for a broad household.
It has a bit more humour than the previous albums from the Dave Rawlings Machine, or for that matter the grimmer Gillian Welch recordings.
There’s jauntiness and sly lines in Money Is The Meat In The Coconut, where hand slap percussion kicks along the fiddle (from this album’s non-Rawlings instrumental highlight, Brittany Haas) and banjo. The drawling amusement in the devil tale, Yup, is both a poke in the eye to Lucifer and a little warning along the way, while Good God A Woman picks out a pick-me-up on guitar that doesn’t even need the moonshine mixed up in the second verse to get you feeling frisky.
Speaking of which, the only-just-chaste desire in Come On Over My House would engineer a heel-toe, heel-toe dance for even the most stubbornly chair-bound shy boy.
There’s songs to bring a small tear to your soul too though. Lindsey Button (with old mucker Willie Watson among those joining Welch and Rawlings in a secular choir) is tender in its sorrow, while Put ‘Em Up Solid ends the album on a reflective note that in some ways ties back to the opening Midnight Train where Rawling’s lightly busy acoustic guitar is the initial engine for the Welch/Rawlings entwined voices to tell us “the one you left, the one you loved, cries all night long, she prayed until the break of day”.
As suggested by Machine shows on last year’s tour by Welch and Rawlings, some of Almanack is beefier than usual.
The electric guitar and band arrangement of Guitar Man, a measured but wiry mid-tempo song, is Rawlings indulging his inner Neil Young. Cumberland Gap finds organ occasionally augmenting the guitars and simple drum shapes for what ends up as almost classic southern rock crossed with a dark folk tale.
And even the relatively mellow tones of Airplane has Haas in overlaid parts bringing both some swell and some flightiness to Rawlings’ typically intoxicating guitar lines.
The variety and tenor of Old David’s Almanack makes for something less gripping overall than Rawlings’ 2015 album, Nashville Obsolete, but his/their greater confidence about how a Rawlings album differs from a Welch album means a surer-footed record.
It is in then a very satisfying compendium. I’d order another almanack in a year if it’s offered.