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Rawlings easily moves out of the shadow

Wilbur Theatre, Boston, November 29, 2017

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Every once in awhile David Rawlings moves out of the shadow of musical mate Gillian Welch to launch his own tour. While Welch, for whom Rawlings plays guitar, has the more prominent career, nights like this ably confirm that there is a reason does his own thing as well.

Rawlings, who released the very fine "Poor David's Almanack" in August, amply proved that he is a guitarist to be reckoned with. He has made that clear while playing second fiddle with Welch, but perhaps more so with his own gig. Playing folk, country, gospel and bluesy tones, Rawlings ably met the stylistic varieties.

The Rhode Island native also was able to do it whether on electric or acoustic guitar or banjo in an understated why.

That's apparently part of his M.O. The day before the show, Rawlings' "Cumberland Gap" received a Grammy nominated for Best American Roots Song. One would have thought Rawlings would have ben riding high with the honor, but no mention was made of the nomination. One suspected he was comfortable relying on his musical skills. Good move.

To say that Rawlings was backed by an excellent band may be a profound understatement. This was almost a revue show with Welch taking lead vocals on a few songs including one of her best known, "Look at Miss Ohio." Willie Watson Jr., who has his own solo career going, played banjo and acoustic guitar and enjoyed a few turns on lead vocals as well ("Keep It Clean" and "If I Had My Way").

The rest of the band include fiddle player supreme Brittany Haas, who prettied up the songs with her sweet playing, sometimes with Watson joined her on a twin- fiddle attack ("Come On Down to My House"). Bassist Paul Kowert, also a member of Punch Brothers, gave the songs a bit more backbone on his stand-up bass. There were multiple layers of harmony on most songs, including occasionally all five ("Good God a Woman" and the pretty sounding closing of "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby").

It was easy to see why Rawlings gave his band mates their own musical space and only served to enhance the evening, which was spread over two sets.

Rawlings' take on Old Crow Medicine Show's "I Hear Them All," which segued into "This Land Is Your Land" was a major highlight. The songs worked musically and certainly thematically.

With a formidable backing band and particularly Welch in the house, it would be easy for Rawlings to have overshot. But thanks to his own abilities, Rawlings made it clear he didn't need to play second fiddle to anyone.