Because Songs Matter

DAVID RAWLINGS MACHINE: A FRIEND OF A FRIEND


The title of David Rawlings’ debut “solo” album, A Friend of a Friend, may be the most appropriate album title since Raw Power. A perennial sideman, Rawlings has most notably backed Gillian Welch though, if you’ve ever seen the two perform, you’re aware of just how colossal a misnomer it is to describe Rawlings’ role as “backing” anyone. More aptly, Rawlings has performed alongside Welch, contributing aching, lonesome harmonies and devastatingly beautiful guitar to every one of Welch’s releases to date. You’ll also find Rawlings behind (or beside) Ryan Adams, Allison Krause, Emmylou Harris, the Wallflowers, Norah Jones, and a host of other artists found on a Starbucks Americana Sampler near you. I suppose one could describe Rawlings’ career as being “under the radar,” but anyone who picked up the O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack should be well acquainted with David Rawlings.

A Friend of a Friend may not propel Rawlings to AAA radio stardom or expand his audience too far beyond those who already shout themselves horse every time he steps up to perform Conor Oberst’s “Method Acting” – which morphs into “Cortez the Killer” on A Friend of a Friend, much the way it does in most of Rawlings’ performances – during Welch’s sets, but something tells me Rawlings didn’t make this record to take the “next step” in his career. A Friend of a Friend doesn’t play at all like some calculated career move, but rather a collection of songs Rawlings felt a connection with, and wanted to record, so he did. My best guess – and this is only a guess – is that’s exactly what it is. It doesn’t take much in the way of imagination to envision Rawlings picking and singing these tunes backstage before a gig, or in his living room some Sunday afternoon. There is not a single contrived or inauthentic moment on A Friend of a Friend and, in a sad commentary on the state of the music industry, that’s quite a feat.

Sonically and structurally speaking, the album is essentially another Gillian Welch/David Rawlings album, with Rawlings handling lead vocal duties this time out. Welch is all over the record, as are a number of Rawlings friends (and friends of friends, one assumes). And while A Friend of a Friend meanders at times, the high points – “Ruby,” “It’s Too Easy,” and “Bells of Harlem” among them – are more than engaging enough to compensate for any momentary lulls.

A Friend of a Friend is going to end up on my year-end Top Ten list and I would not be the least bit shocked to see it on a number of others, as well. If nothing else, I sincerely hope this album inspires Rawlings to stand front and center a little more often.

Dave Rawlings - Ruby     

Dave Rawlings - It's Too Easy     

Dave Rawlings on myspace, Buy A Friend Of A Friend

8 Comments

  1. Brit Brit
    November 24, 2009    

    So was To Be Young actually written by David?

  2. November 25, 2009    

    Yes it is a co-write between Rawlings and Adams. Most of the Heartbreaker album is Ryan, David, Gillian and Ethan Johns. In fact the track is preceded by a track of Ryan and David talking about Morrisey.

    A major pet peeve of mine has been reading reviews of this album in places like Time that don’t recognize that Rawlings co-wrote the song.

  3. Brit Brit
    November 25, 2009    

    I figured that from the opening track I had just never actually looked it up.

  4. November 25, 2009    

    I can agree with just about everything you said about this album. It’s been on repeat for the last week – which is bad when I’m trying to finalize my lists.

    To my ears – and at a sparing 9 tracks – I think it’s flawless.

    Ruby has a strong chance for Song of the Year, too.

  5. December 2, 2009    

    Nice review. I wrote my review [http://lowtechtimes.com/2009/11/30/album-review-dave-rawlings-machine-a-friend-of-a-friend/ ] prior to reading others’ and it sounds like we agree in many areas. Besides sounding like a Gillian Welch album in parts, I think it also sounds like an OCMS album in places with their guest parts. I also agree that Ruby is one of the best tracks.

  6. pnk pnk
    December 16, 2009    

    Ruby is the best song by The Band that they never got around to writing or recording. I can’t adequately express how much I love it right now, and this album.

  7. tom power tom power
    January 6, 2010    

    I liked the one about the monkey and the train

  8. January 9, 2010    

    NO SERIOUSLY: The Dave Rawlings Machine (w/Gillian Welch), Live at The Parish, 12/14

    http://theumpteenthtimes.com/?p=1769

    “Music News That’s Fit to Fake”

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