A Friend of a Friend is the long awaited debut record by Dave Rawlings, the producer, guitarist, singer, and songwriter best known in the circles around Old Crow Medicine Show and Gillian Welch.
Of the nine songs on the album, all but two are Rawlings originals (“The Monkey and the Engineer” by country and blues great Jesse Fuller, and a medley of Conor Oberst and Neil Young that seamlessly transitions “Method Acting” into “Cortez the Killer”).
Rawlings’ voice is that of a man who has walked a million steps, many in the wrong direction. “Ruby” is Rawlings’ declaration of love for an isolated woman who is too isolated and too self-centered. “Cause that news coming down the wire,” he sings. “Says that your head’s on fire, And I’m trying to get a message through to you.”
One of my favorite songs on the album, “Sweet Tooth,” finds Rawlings and Welch stripped down to two guitars and two voices, singing about the difficulty of addiction and the satisfaction that comes from the powerful need for a fix: “I want to be your honey but I got a sweet tooth, I asked you once, I won’t ask you twice, Come and be my sugar daddy, I’ll treat you nice.”
The band that drives the Rawlings Machine is more Porsche then Pinto, with friends Benmont Tench from the Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Karl Himmel, and Nate Walcott of Bright Eyes, along with the aforementioned Welch. In the end, Rawlings’ voyage from behind the scenes to center stage is successful. It would have been easy to overproduce this long-awaited album, but in the end fans have an album worth the wait.
A Friend of a Friend is out now on Acony Records.