Album: Gillian Welch

Soul Journey, Acony/WEA
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The Independent Culture

Though nominally solo, Gillian Welch's three previous albums have all featured elegant duo arrangements performed with her partner, co-writer and accompanist par excellence, David Rawlings. For Soul Journey, Rawlings has moved into the producer's seat, allowing Welch to make her first truly solo album, with bare renditions of traditional numbers like "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor" and "I Had a Real Good Mother and Father" interspersed with original material on which her achingly lonely voice is presented in larger band arrangements which do little to alleviate its essential solitude. There are oceans of yearning in her vocal on "I Had a Real Good Mother and Father", leaving a hollow stillness at the song's core; elsewhere, her voice cracks occasionally into that lazy yodel that has become one of her trademarks - but only sparingly, Welch being a singer of emotion rather than affectation. The band settings are discreet in the extreme - sometimes little more than a breath of quiet organ, smear of dobro or wistful whine of fiddle hinting at the hidden depths of songs such as "Lowlands" and "Wayside/Back in Time", with more fulsome bluegrass and folk-rock arrangements carrying "No One Knows My Name" and "Wrecking Ball" respectively. As before, Welch demonstrates the endless contemporary adaptability of traditional forms, a quest that continues unabated, judging by "One Little Song": "There's got to be a song left to sing/ 'Cause everybody can't have thought of everything/ One little song that ain't been sung/ One little rag that ain't been wrung out completely yet". Recommended.