Singer-songwriter Dave Rawlings has been content to play a complementary role for much of his enviable career. He has worked with a number of acclaimed recording artists, such as Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes and Robyn Hitchcock, as either a producer or musician. And he has been an integral part of Gillian Welch’s sonic landscape. The cerebral and laid-back Rawlings has also shared the spotlight with Welch on their duet albums.
But Rawlings, who leads the band Dave Rawlings Machine, is front and center with “Nashville Obsolete,” a seven-song EP comprised of moving, introspective and melancholy alt-country/folk.
“This album is something different, and I always think that’s a good thing,” Rawlings says. “The cool thing with Gillian and I is that we switch things up and explore other territory. That’s a healthy thing to do.”
The project, just the second solo outing for the veteran guitarist, was self-produced.
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“I think for some, it’s difficult to produce their own work, but for some reason I’m able to detach myself from the recording artist side of myself,” Rawlings says while calling from Boston. “When I listen to my work, it isn’t hard for me to forget it’s me. I listened to these songs and it hit me that I’m dealing with this weird sounding male vocalist. Fortunately I grew up listening to a lot of squirrelly male vocalists, like Bob Dylan, Neil Young and John Prine.”
Rawlings has a reedy tenor, but unlike his heroes, his vocals are not an acquired taste. He recorded this album with Welsh and other ace players, such as multi-instrumentalist Willie Watson and bassist Paul Kowert.
“We certainly record and tour with an array of overqualified musicians,” Rawlings says. “The talent that comes along for the ride with us is incredible.”
One of his biggest fans is Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, who occasionally sits in with the Rawlings Machine. Fans should check out YouTube for the Rawling Machine’s version of the Led Zeppelin classic “Going to California,” which features Jones.
“He loves folk music,” Rawlings says. “He is such a talented musician that he could play with anybody. We did three legs of a tour with him a few years ago. He would probably be out with us now but he’s working on an opera – not a rock opera, but an opera. That’s how much range John Paul Jones has.”
When they perform Sunday at the Durham Performing Arts Center, Rawlings Machine will showcase songs from its EP and from the only other Rawlings Machine album, “A Friend of Friend,” which dropped in 2009. Rawlings will sing and play his 1935 Epiphone Olympic guitar, which he flatpicks. “That guitar has its own voice,” Rawlings says. “That’s the guitar I want to play. It creates its own landscape.” Welch will perform with the group in Durham.
Fans will have to catch the Rawlings Machine quickly because after the current tour ends, Rawlings will help Welch make another album – or the tandem will record an album of duets.
“Gillian and I will work together next year and it’ll be something different,” Rawlings says. “We’re not sure what it will be, but it will not be a Machine album. If you want to see us, this is it for the time being.”
Who: The Dave Rawlings Machine, featuring Gillian Welch
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham.
Info: 919-680-2787 or dpacnc.com