Dave Rawlings Machine – “Bells of Harlem”
1. David Rawlings and Gillian Welch make what is generally considered throwback music. From Gillian’s first record Revival, the duo have been making music that doesn’t depend on trends or the passage of time — an Appalachian folk mixture that draws strength from the songs themselves, not from elaborate production or experimental sounds. It has now been six years since their last sighting, and the new record A Friend Of a Friend could not be more welcome. Resurfacing as the Dave Rawlings Machine, Welch and her partner haven’t changed much except lead vocal duties. The music still points back to older forms of music, though on “Bells of Harlem” Rawlings adjusts his lens to harness a string-laden, mid-60’s sound that perfectly complements his and Welch’s high-register harmonies.
2. “Bells of Harlem” opens with lyrics about waking up, and not being able to “sleep for dreaming.” The words match the music’s dreamy waltz, lilting with the grace of “Just Like a Woman” as Rawlings expresses the relief of feeling at home. When Welch joins him with to drawl out “This is the dawn/ the break of day”, the two capture the youthful excitement of a long-anticipated day. Rawlings’ plucky Epiphone Olympic guitar stands out over the strings, as the song is in no rush to move forward. His narrator tells of moving down the street, the “crowd breathing faster” after walking what must have been “a hundred blocks”. He sums up the short memory of a child, realizing that “tears of the past” are no more, caught up in the palpable excitement as he hears the long-awaited bells. The impact of the sound is explained by quoting “Ain’t No More Cane” and declaring that “they couldn’t stop the freedom train”, drawing a historical framework around the events and adding gravity to what was a simple child’s dream.