Pristine Vocal Harmonies Distinguish Dave Rawlings Machine's Performance at Music Box

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You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you could’ve judged Dave Rawlings Machine singer-guitarist Dave Rawlings by what he wore last night at the Music Box Supper Club. Dressed head to toe in blue denim and wearing a big, wide-rimmed white cowboy hat, he certainly looked like the alt-country hero that he is.

Earlier this year, the band released its fantastic new album, Nashville Obsolete. Recorded on analog tape at Woodland Sound Studios in Nashville, the disc features seven original compositions written by singer-songwriter Welch and Rawlings. The two have collaborated together for years and on the album, they receive some capable help courtesy of bassist Paul Kowert (Punch Brothers), singer-guitarist Willie Watson (Old Crow Medicine Show) and fiddle player Brittany Haas, all of whom were on hand for the sold out concert.

Playing two sets that checked in at nearly 90 minutes, the group put on a spellbinding performance. In fact, the room was so still and quiet during the concert, you’d have thought fans had come to attend a religious service. 

There certainly was something spiritual about songs such as “The Trip,” a tune that Rawlings delicately spoke his way through, whispering like a gentler, kinder Bob Dylan while Welch softly crooned in the background. At ten-plus minutes long, the studio version of the song has an epic quality to it that translated perfectly when the band played it live.

Band members shared lead vocal duties with ease. Watson took over lead vocals on “Keep It Clean,” a Charley Jordan tune he introduced as a “dirty song.” Watson also capably delivered “Stewball,” a traditional number about a racehorse that he turned into a vigorous sing-a-long with the crowd. Welch returned to the microphone for the somber “Miss Ohio,” a tune characterized by its undulating acoustic guitar melody and plaintive vocals, and then Rawlings took over lead vocals once again for a cover of Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately.” Throughout it all, the group's singers harmonized so perfectly, we thought they couldn't possibly be singing live (but they clearly were). 

For the terrific finale, the band started out playing a rendition of the Bright Eyes’ tune “Method Acting.” That song segued into a bluegrass-y version of Neil Young's “Cortez the Killer.” The band then effortlessly shifted gears one more time for a cover of the Band’s “The Weight.” The ability to navigate such a range of musical territory suggested the surplus of talent on stage last night.

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