Gillian Welch's longtime guitarist, backing vocalist and songwriting partner, Dave Rawlings, released his solo debut (A Friend of a Friend) late last year. Rawlings showed up at the KEXP studios on Feb. 14 with a talented group of musicians, which included Welch, and it was by far the best Valentine I've ever received.
Rawlings walked in with a big cowboy hat perched on his head, a guitar in his hand and a song in his heart. Sounds corny, I know, but when it comes to Dave Rawlings (and Welch), I tend to get a little sappy. They're simply two of the most talented performers making music together, and their music has a way of wending its way deep into your soul and making itself at home. This performance at KEXP was no exception.
They kicked off the set with a bouncy and playful rendition of "The Monkey and the Engineer," which made me want to sing along. They followed that up with the mournful tune "Ruby." These two do mournful really well, as evidenced by the first gentle strains of guitar and harmonica in the next song, "Bells of Harlem," which made the hairs on my arms stand on end. When Rawlings' quiet voice entered like a gentle lullaby, the smile on my face spread a little wider. And, just when I thought it couldn't get better, Welch joined in on vocals; all I could do was sit there like a satisfied Cheshire cat.
A great capper to the amazing set was a rollicking old-time rendition of "To Be Young," which Rawlings co-wrote with Ryan Adams, and which appeared on Adams' excellent 2000 album Heartbreaker. It was easily one of the strongest songs on Heartbreaker, so I was delighted to see Rawlings tackle it 10 years later.
Rawlings is an amazing guitarist, and every time I'm lucky enough to see him perform, I feel like I've witnessed something special.