It Takes Two

In many musical partnerships, there’s clearly a frontman or woman. But in the case of the collaboration between Americana singer-songwriter-instrumentalists Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, the partnership is a true blend of equals.

So it’s strange to me that the duo generally goes by the name of only half of its membership – Gillian Welch. One time, the two toured as the “Dave Rawlings Machine,” but generally speaking they use only Welch’s name.

At one level, it’s obvious why they do this: In the concert I witnessed last night at The Warfield in San Francisco, Welch did most of the lead singing and Rawlings provided most of the harmonies, only leading the charge on one spiraling song (“Sweet Tooth.”) When the duo toured as the “Dave Rawlings Machine,” Rawlings apparently took on most of the lead vocals.

The switching of names is playful. But it’s also an act of denial. For it seems to me, though I’ve admittedly only experienced one live concert featuring the two performers, that Welch and Rawlings complement each other entirely. Their tight-knit sound is so deeply enmeshed in the dance between their voices and instruments (a combination of guitars, banjos, harmonica and body percussion) that it’s difficult to imagine them existing as solo artists in anything near as profound a way.

The “Welch and Rawlings Machine” is a bit of a mouthful, I’ll admit. But maybe it’s time for the two musicians to come up with a new name for themselves which captures the spirit of their deep collaboration.

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