If award bling on the mantle and merit certificates on the wall are any measure, David Rawlings' place in the musical firmament is as secure as a tectonic plate. His work with Gillian Welch, the creative yin to Rawlings' yang, has been recognized with Grammy nominations and a variety of awards from various sources, but the adoration emanating from the pair's slavishly loyal fan base is the best indicator of their success over the past two decades. The thing is that for the majority of their partnership, Rawlings was content to operate as a sideman in the shadows of Welch's media coverage and kept his head down even when she was loudly beating the drum for his invaluable contributions.
Eight years ago, Rawlings shed his sideman status, formed the David Rawlings Machine and stepped to the front of the stage with his first solo album, "A Friend of a Friend," followed six years later by the equally astonishing "Nashville Obsolete." With "Poor David's Almanack," Rawlings drops the Machine appellation - even though the band and Welch herself collaborate - on the first album to be released under his name alone, and it's the best evidence to date of his estimable skills as a songwriter, performer and student of musical history.
The true beauty of "Poor David's Almanack" is Rawlings' determination to carve out a niche for himself in the contemporary Americana milieu, even as he adheres to the traditions and roots of the genres that formed the foundation of his original love of music. "Midnight Train" starts the album with the sound of the modern folk translations of Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie, while "Money is the Meat in the Coconut" could have been an outtake from an early Loudon Wainwright III album, and the muscular "Cumberland Gap" features Rawlings and Welch in a pairing that suggests a David Crosby/Joni Mitchell duet and a CSNY/Crazy Horse soundtrack. There are hints of the kind of revivalism that marked the work of The Jayhawks ("Airplane," "Guitar Man") and Uncle Tupelo ("Lindsey Button," "Come On Over My House"), all of it shot through with Rawlings' own vision, inspirations and expertise. If Americana is looking for a new poster boy, David Rawlings may just be ready for his close-up.