Published Sep 17, 2015Six years since A Friend Of A Friend, Nashville Obsolete is the second Dave Rawlings Machine instalment in a nearly two decade-long partnership with Gillian Welch that has, of course, mostly seen Welch take the lead while Rawlings sticks to guitar and immaculate backup vocals.
The Dave Rawlings Machine project shakes things up a bit, with Rawlings' vocals grittier up front and with the input of four other players: Punch Brothers' Paul Kowert on bass, label mate Willie Watson on guitar and backup vocals and guest appearances by Brittany Haas (fiddle) and Jordan Tice (mandolin).
You're gonna feel like you've heard it before (I was singing along to the "Whoa" refrain of opener "The Weekend" by the second listen) because it borrows liberally from the agreed-upon master, Dylan, and everyone's favourite kooky uncle. I'm talking Neil Young, whose presence is felt strongly at the beginning of the record.
Yet Rawlings-Welch are so good and natural in their borrowing that Nashville Obsolete evokes familiar sepia-toned moods almost without ever sounding worn-out or dated, the only exception perhaps being "Short Haired Woman Blues," on which the tempo feels sluggish.
Otherwise, it's loveliness front to back, songs about rootlessness and travel, the tension between being tied down and feeling free. Not that there's no variation, especially in the mid-section: Rawlings and Welch move from the eerily spacious southern drama of "Bodysnatchers" to "The Last Pharaoh" (which sounds like a classic train song) to playful "Candy," the fastest and second-shortest tune, which toys with the idea of taking too long.
The collection's greatness arguably hinges on the success of 11-minute-long "The Trip" — remember "I Dream A Highway" off 2001's Time (The Revelator)? Thankfully, Rawlings-Welch and band nail it with unhurried magic, as Rawlings' Woody-like spoken intro is interrupted perfectly when Welch's voice joins his on the first chorus. (Acony)