There's always a moment on Gillian Welch records when she reminds you that her old-timey music doesn't live in the past. On her fifth album - and first since 2003 - the moment comes on "Silver Dagger," which borrows the title and bloodlust of a traditional ballad popularized by Joan Baez in 1960, but it gets wistful about the good old days of "nineteen-hundred and ninety-nine." Welch's partner, David Rawlings, stepping back from his nominal star turn with Dave Rawlings Machine, continues as America's most low-key guitar hero; his sparkling lines and harmonies cling to Welch's rich vocals (which infused the Decemberists' recent The King Is Dead) like smoke plumes. The themes are often bleak: "Some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind," Welch sings at one point, probably with a wink. But there's a light that never goes out on The Harrow & the Harvest. "Hard times," she insists on the song of the same name, "ain't gonna rule my mind."
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