Folk guitar hero David Rawlings has put out a new collection of songs that may best be described as a pop roots album — “Poor David’s Almanack.”
The singer and songwriter teamed up with his musical partner Gillian Welch to write highly digestible new takes on familiar folk songs, and he’ll perform them with his band Tuesday night at Brooklyn Steel.
Rawlings told the Daily News he and Welch aimed to stay close to Americana music’s roots by finding bits of melody, phrases or stories that have endured from other artists and fashioning their own concise versions.
“It was fun to take a certain kind of melody and to harmonize it to add our own flavor,” Rawlings said. “I always wondered how people like Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan could write so many songs in their careers, and you realize some of that is from taking a melody and chords that you’ve heard and writing a new story to it.”
The guitarist said he welcomed the change in style he and Welch went with for the record, calling it a “snapshot” rather than a painting: “Gillian and I are proud of putting something out that we feel has what we want in the music, but is a bit of a quicker look at it.”
“Cumberland Gap” is perhaps the most striking example on “Almanack” of reinventing an old standard. The song resembles the original tune by Guthrie in its melody, but the tempo is slower, it showcases more intricate vocal harmonies, and tells a completely different story.
Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch perform during a special night edition of Music City Roots on March 15, 2016.
(Rick Diamond/Getty Images)
Another album highlight, “Money is the Meat in the Coconut,” is an exciting one to share with audiences live, thanks to Rawlings’ supporting players Willie Watson and Welch, Rawlings said.
“The arrangement is a blast to play live, with Gillian playing the hambone and Willie on banjo,” he said. “People really like it. The great thing about playing live music is the audience is part of the show and the energy they bring sort of lets you know what you can get away with.”
The guitarist, who has made five albums with Welch under her name, said playing together with his name on the bill is a different experience for fans.
“There’s a bit of pressure taken off of the precision that we need to have just as two people filling the whole room with sound,” he said. “That being said, the most beautiful part of the show is when it breaks down into that spacious music that we like to play the two of us, with a bit more color thrown in.”
Brooklyn Steel hosts “An Evening with David Rawlings” Tuesday night.