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CD Review

Welch is back, bringing the blues

By James Reed
Globe Staff / June 28, 2011

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Rendered in a cryptic drawing, David Rawlings is whispering something to Gillian Welch on the cover of their new album. Presumably, he’s not asking his longtime musical partner what her fans have been wondering for the past eight years: Where has she been?

Welch and Rawlings haven’t released a record under her name since 2003’s “Soul Journey.’’ As Rawlings took the spotlight with a fine solo album, 2009’s “A Friend of a Friend,’’ which also featured Welch, her absence began to feel worrisome.

The good news is that “The Harrow & the Harvest’’ isn’t just a welcome return to form; it stretches beyond the rustic folk and country of Welch’s first four albums. With its exceedingly mellow mood and fair share of minor chords, “The Harrow & the Harvest’’ might as well be a blues record.

Welch and Rawlings weren’t in a hurry to make this album, and you hear their patience in its unhurried grace. As usual, the beauty lies in the fluid interplay between the duo, the way their voices and acoustic guitars intertwine on the closing “The Way the Whole Thing Ends.’’

“Dark Turn of Mind’’ is quintessential Welch, a dirge that somehow sounds like a badge of honor. “You know some girls are bright as the morning/ And some have a dark turn of mind,’’ Welch sings.

The tempo spikes on “The Way It Goes,’’ but again, the lyrics are stridently downbeat: “Peggy Johnson bought the farm / Put a needle in her arm / That’s the way that it goes / That’s the way.’’ (Out today)

ESSENTIAL “The Way It Goes’’

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings perform at the Newport Folk Festival July 30.