REVIEW: Gillian Welch: Time (The Revelator)
Gillian Welch: Time (The Revelator) [Acony Records, 2001]
Two words? Old time.
The line is often as slender as a southern accent. Navigating the waters that divide (alt.)folk from the taboo of country is difficult indeed, especially during this O Brother boom of "oldtimey" music. While "New Country" was a sordid landscape of atrocious, wailing pop, this new incarnation of the spirit of Hank Williams and Bill Monroe is arresting, powerful and, ultimately, utterly unoriginal. With Time, Gillian Welch has recorded a disc that should be accessible to anyone with love for a pure voice, wise lyrics, and a lazy, wistful delivery. Although the accented flourishes may still be a little much for your sister who listens to Natalie Imbruglia, if you can handle the alt.country tendencies of Damien Jurado or Pete Yorn, you can certainly handle this.
Time opens with "Revelator", a six-and-a-half minute epic that plays out with acoustic guitar and Welch's lilting, lovely voice. When she is joined by David Rawlings, the loneliness of the song is only further accentuated, made almost acheing as it rides to a rising conclusion. Other tracks stray further from the acoustic folk mold: there is a significant twang on "I Want to Sing that Rock and Roll" or "Ruination Day Pt. 2", but their spirit is constant with the rest of Welch's work. The melancholy "Everything is Free" would be welcome on a Cat Power record, and the sleepy, fifteen-minute "I Dream a Highway" manifests its subject-matter in a manner that would make Michael Stipe envious.
Welch seems disinterested with the categorisation of her work, preferring instead to perform these nostalgic songs with the energy and sound that best matches the piece. As a result, the listener comes to trust her even as she delves into unfamiliar territory. For those who are less comfortable with conventional old-time music, the risks Time presents are well worth embracing, and they conspire to make this album a true gem.