December 3, 2020

Music in Sepia

The Harrow & The Harvest
Gillian Welch

You know some girls are bright as the morning
And some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind

• • •

Though it was released in June, I’ve been listening lately to Gillian Welch’s first new album in eight years and have found it to be quintessentially autumnal in tone. Here in the falling of the year, I find this music bracing. It portrays the dogged spirit and weathered faces of those who dance at the threshing floor, having survived another hard path to harvest, while anticipating the darkness to come.

Along with collaborator David Rawlings, Welch has given us another spare yet rich offering of Americana roots, front porch, pass the hard cider music — intimate, wry, soulful, and lilting. This music comes straight from the Dust Bowl or some holler deep in the Appalachian hills. The songs paint sepia portraits of life that’s hard and the spirit that survives it.

The mood of the record is not all melancholy or dark, but the edges are worn, even when hands start clapping on “Six White Horses.” It can be a blessing to have a “Dark Turn of Mind,” but such girls still feel the shadows a’calling.

My favorite song here is “Hard Times,” which portrays a farmer stubbornly persevering, singing to his mule as he struggles behind the plow:

There was a camp town man, used to plow and sing
And he loved that mule and the mule loved him
When the day got long as it does about now
I’d hear him singing to his muley-cow
Calling, “Come on my sweet old girl, and I’d bet the whole damn world
That we’re gonna make it yet to the end of the row”

Singing “hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind
Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind, Bessie
Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more”

It’s that kind of grit and tenacious determination that brings a smile to my face and warms my heart for the winter to come.

We rejoice when it’s good. We do what it takes to get through the pain. We hunger for glory.

It’s beefsteak when I’m working’
Whiskey when I’m dry

And sweet heaven when I die…


  1. It’s a fantastic, much anticipated addition to her canon. I’m glad to hear you’re a fan! Hard Times is my favorite too.


  2. O Brother, Where Art Thou? introduced me to Gillian. I’ve held off buying this album, though (I have Revival, Hell, and Time). May have to pick it up. Thanks!

  3. I really like Gillian & David’s music. David is one of the most adventurous acoustic guitarists around and really makes what would likely just come across as better than average music sound great.

  4. Margaret Catherine says

    Placing GIllian Welch on the shelf alongside Scythian and L’Angelus…music with a soul and a story, not just a cool beat. Thanks!