Acony; Release date: July 28, 2011
THE DEAL: After eight years (I wish I could have that kind of break), folk singer-songwriter breaks silence and some waves with her follow-up to 2003's Soul Journey.
THE GOOD: Welch certainly didn't spend eight years in silence (collaborations include The Decemberists and Conor Oberst) or overdubbing frivolous instruments. She and David Rowlings hum harmonies side by side, and Rowlings has some guitar-picking that deserves some compliments. On tracks like "The Way it Goes," he rolls out some blues leads, and his soothing arpeggios pockmark the entire album. Other than that, it's only Southern storytelling on the record. No drums, gospel choirs, or fiddles: H&H is a faithful depiction of Welch's "cold Kentucky ground." She has a lifetime of rich lyrics in her songs, and the album's closing line could be a new idiom: "That's the way the cornbread crumbles/that's the way the whole thing ends."
THE BAD: It's a beautiful and chilling cycle of songs, but it's a little slow at times. For how well composed quicker songs like "Six White Horses" are, I only wish there were more.
THE VERDICT: Even though I'm not a devoted Gillian Welch follower, this sounds like a lot of hard work and a lot of time. Welch's keeping mum has paid off with a quiet album that sounds out of our time. Be sure to check her out in Charlotte when she plays the Knight Theater on Aug. 20.