It's natural to be inquisitive about what exactly took Gillian Welch so long to put The Harrow & The Harvest out when you consider that it's her first studio release in eight years. One assumption would be that she's spent all that time working on extravagant new material and the album would be thick with arrangements and studio trickery. Another would be that she idled the time away and the album would be light, undercooked and unrewarding. Actually, neither of these is accurate. The Harrow & The Harvest is a simple ten song folk collection which distils and refines Welch's core elements.
Welch's 2003 release Soul Journey capitalised on her appearance alongside Alison Kraus a year prior on the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou and, in fact, many of the songs on The Harrow & The Harvest would feel at home on that collection. In fact, songs like Scarlet Town, Down Along The Dixie Line, Six White Horses and Silver Dagger have a distinctly sepia-toned identity, almost feeling like they've been played on many a beaten down guitar throughout the generations.
The interplay between Welch's vocals and David Rawlings sparse guitar is natural and understated, with neither trying to outshine the other but instead settling for a satisfying co-dependency and when a banjo or harmonica enters the mix it almost jars you from your seat.
The Harrow & The Harvest is a an unapologetic Americana country-folk album and, for that very reason, will feel alien to some ears. Even the hardiest opponent of country music would admit, however, that Welch's voice has an agonising elegance to it even if the languid pace of the music occasionally cries out for something, anything, to arrest the attention.