NORTH SMITHFIELD – Beating out the likes of Leonard Cohen and Bonny Light Horseman, North Smithfield native David Rawlings and his longtime partner Gillian Welsh won Best Folk Album at the 2021 Grammy Awards for their release All The Good Times.
The bluegrass folk duo was honored at the 63rd annual awards ceremony, broadcast on CBS on Sunday, March 14.
Raised on Sunnycrest Avenue in North Smithfield where his family still lives, Rawlings graduated from North Smithfield High School before attending Berklee College of Music, where he met Welch. The two have been singing together since the early 1990s, and he was Welch’s sideman for more than a decade, touring, writing and recording with the artist, and while also playing on albums with Ryan Adams and Bright Eyes, among others.
He released his first album in his own name, A Friend of a Friend, in 2009 as Dave Rawlings Machine – and Welch sang on every track. Welch also accompanied Rawlings on the second studio album released by Dave Rawlings Machine, Nashville Obsolete, as well as the third, Poor David’s Almanac, released in 2017.
During the same period, Rawlings accompanied Welsh on five albums released under her name.
“They both play on each other’s record, they both inform the direction each other’s music takes, but they maintain separate musical identities,” explained a 2017 article in music publication Pitchfork. “Yet, their combined catalog comprises perhaps the most ambitious and most peculiar corpus in roots music today, one that digs deep into the past to find neglected song forms and defiantly old-timey notions: new ways of old singing, of just inhabiting the music.”
Their latest, All the Good Times, was released under both names last July, and features ten acoustic covers recorded at their home in East Nashville, including songs by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.
The album led to a feature story in the The New York Times Magazine last year.
“If Welch’s voice delivers the good news or the hard news of the world, Rawlings’s voice comes underneath, asking how much deeper the sadness can go or what fresh heights the ecstatic can climb to,” noted a story of the folk duo in 2020.
They’re no stranger to awards ceremonies. Rawlings and Welch made their first trip to the Academy Awards in 2000 following their work on the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? The album earned a Grammy as album of the year.
In 2018, they were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – and performed the song at the Oscars that year.
They were jointly nominated for Best American Roots song for Cumberland Gap off of Poor David’s Almanac, a song also used in the opening to Guy Richie’s 2020 film, The Gentleman. And in 2011, Welch’s The Harrow and The Harvest, produced by Rawlings, was nominated Best Folk Album.
Now 50 years old, Rawlings secured his first official Grammy win this week with the collection of cover songs. The album won over Leonard Cohen’s posthumous Thanks for the Dance, Laura Marling’s Song for Our Daughter, the Secret Sisters’ Saturn Return, and a self-titled album by Bonny Light Horseman.