David Rawlings is full of dreams. The man behind such beautiful songs as “I Dream a Highway” with longtime collaborator Gillian Welch has harnessed folk tradition throughout his career to tell stories of love and woe. On his new album with Welch, “Poor David’s Almanack,” the pair fill up the page with pure Americana songs that sound like old classics. It’s a testament to the amount they’ve steeped themselves in the traditions of country and folk, and it’s easy to feel the joy that spills out of their songs.
The first song that really digs deep is the yearning ballad “Airplane.” Dreamlike in its imagery, it feels like a song I’ve known all my life. Maybe it speaks to some part of us that hopes for a fantastical escape from life’s incessant failures. In the song, the wish for physical escape is a metaphorical flight from the pain of unrequited love:
“Listen up to what I say
Fill your own cup if you’re tired of me
Can’t you see life’s a bitch
‘Cause you don’t want me
I can’t live
Heaven low, heaven mine
Out on the road we never had too much time
You don’t know how it feels
To go so slow rolling on the rubber wheels”
Some songs on “Poor David’s Almanack” feel like fun singalongs. “Yup” rolls along like a quiet train, Rawlings and Welch bookmarking each line with a short “yup.” They seem to be having a great time together, which is probably why they’ve collaborated for so long. “Money is the Meat in the Coconut” feels equally as fun, with lyrics such as:
“Chestnuts raw and roasted
Apples whole and sliced
Peanuts and onions toasted
I shouldn’t have to tell you twice
Money is the meat in the coconut”
The harmonies on the album are, as expected, right on the money. Welch and Rawlings’ voices match each other beautifully, and the blend of vocals approaches the heavens on “Lindsay Button,” one of the best tracks on “Poor David’s Almanack.” The song tells the story of a woman who came down from the mountains a “long time ago.” It has the nostalgic feeling of a love song and the transcendence of an old-time spiritual, a mixture that works well.
The earthiness of Rawlings’ voice adds much of the character of “Poor David’s Almanack.” It’s a perfect contrast with the bright, full arrangements that characterize the album. Whether aching behind sweeping strings on “Airplane” or the soulful rock of “Guitar Man,” he finds a way to accentuate the different styles and sounds. Welch plays a perfect second fiddle.
Although it’s an undoubtedly good album, there aren’t a lot of standouts on “Poor David’s Almanack” that make it a great album. Still, though, I’d recommend the album for any traveler of the open road. This record is made for open vistas and new horizons. Close your eyes and listen a while to the slow burn of closer “Put ‘Em Up Solid.” It won’t let you down.