Album: Dave Rawlings Machine, A Friend of a Friend, (Acony)

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The Independent Culture

Better known as Gillian Welch's personal and performing partner, Dave Rawlings' first album in his own right is an outright triumph, reflecting not just his instrumental and production expertise, but his considerable songwriting abilities too.

With Welch involved throughout (along with period ensemble Old Crow Medicine Show on several tracks), it's akin to one of her albums, but with the balance of their harmonies swapped to favour Rawlings' voice. The lovely "Ruby" opens the album with a country-rock plangency reminiscent of Asylum Records of the 70s, a change likewise evident in the album photos, which depict the duo more as denim-clad hippies than 40s rural retro-icons. That laidback impression comes through strongly in the sunrise reverie of "Bells of Harlem" and particularly in "I Hear Them All", a song of spiritual empathy delivered with an air of stillness and contentment. Elsewhere, there's a bluegrass version of "To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)", co-written with Ryan Adams; ruminations on hard times and dangerous indulgences, "How's About You" and "Sweet Tooth"; and a medley joining Conor Oberst's "Method Acting" to Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer".

Download this: Ruby, To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High), Method Acting/Cortez the Killer, I Hear Them All, Bells of Harlem