Once & Again: Dave Rawlings Machine

Last summer, on Sunday, August 2, 2009, to be precise, Dave Rawlings Machine kicked off the day’s music at George Wein’s Folk Festival 50 in Newport, RI, with “Diamond Joe.”

It was 11:30 in the morning under the tent that covered the Harbor Stage. The duo: singers/acoustic guitarists/banjo players/songwriters David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, had performed the day before on the main (and much larger) Fort Stage as the “two-piece band called Gillian Welch.”  This hour-long set featured David on lead vocals, more songs by him and lots of his incredible guitar solos, played on his trademark 1935 Epiphone Olympic guitar.

Some of the highlights of this performance (which was, to me, one of the highest-lights of the two day festival) were the songs “I Hear Them All,” “The Bells of Harlem,” “Method Acting/Cortez the Killer” and a long and mesmerizing version of Bob Dylan’s  “Queen Jane Approximately.” The stunningly-pure beauty of the blend of their voices and their perfectly played guitars was at times nearly overwhelming.

Thanks to NPR being on hand to broadcast, record and archive the festival, I was able to download the show when I got home and burn it to a CD. Listening to and reliving that Sunday morning concert has been one of the most dependable joys of the past year.

Last night, Friday, June 4, 2010, to be precise, Dave Rawlings Machine kicked off the show at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH with “Monkey and the Engineer.”

The duo has become a quintet, augmented for most of the night by the addition of Ketch Secor on harmonica, fiddle and vocals, Morgan Jahnig on upright bass (both from the band Old Crow Medicine Show) and Gabe Witcher on acoustic guitar, fiddle and vocals.

Some of the highlights of this two-set, two-and-one-half hour show were the same as the Newport Show and it was such a thrill to again hear equally-awesome versions of “Method Acting/Cortez the Killer” and “Queen Jane Approximately.” But the first chills of the night came when “I Hear Them All” segued into “This Land Is Your Land.” And there were others: the unrecorded David/Gillian duet “That’s The Way It Will Be,” the full quintet versions of “Sweet Tooth” and “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” and Gillian’s featured number “Look at Miss Ohio” that continued the string of shivers down my spine.

But saving the best for last, “The Weight” (by Robbie Robertson and the Band) was an inspired choice for an encore and featured the finest ensemble playing and singing of the night. Each of the four singers had their turn at a verse and then joined together on the classic chorus and the last (“Catch a cannonball…”) verse in absolutely heavenly harmony.

There is nothing like live music, especially music played and sung like this. The recorded music by these artists is pretty good, too. Highly Recommended.

What a way to start the summer!

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One Response to Once & Again: Dave Rawlings Machine

  1. Tom Savage says:

    This is a great post. I say that because in just a few paragraphs, you have piqued my interest in a group of artists, none of whom I’ve ever heard of. I’ll be looking for that NPR download as soon as I can find my new PC among the boxes and random piles of stuff in my apartment…!

    I miss The Band. What a great ensemble of musicians. Didn’t you and I see Dylan & The Band at the Garden, in…’75 or ’76…?
    One of my favorite concert/movie/documentaries has got to be The Last Waltz. It’s nice to hear that other quality musicians are inspired by their songbook.
    I’ll be looking forward to my introduction to Dave Rawlings….

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