Album Gillian Welch

Time (The Revelator), Acony/Proper
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These past few years have been an up-and-down time for Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, with the collapse of their previous label balanced more recently by the surprise success of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, for which Welch served as associate producer. The upturn in their fortunes continues with this, their third and best album, an extraordinary marriage of ancient and modern that demonstrates the enduring vitality of country music in its traditional form (as opposed to the flaccid sentimentality of corporate country). Using little more than voices, acoustic guitars and the occasional banjo, the duo conjures up compelling evocations of tragedy and personal history, with a song such as "Everything Is Free" wrapping up a complex bundle of conflicting emotions – regret, resignation, hope, disbelief – in a few well-chosen chord changes, and the stark confessions of "Revelator" couched in a mournful, reflective fatalism that seems centuries old. As the title suggests, time and memory are the album's main themes, with Elvis fondly remembered in the country-blues "Elvis Presley Blues" for the way "he shook it like a holy roller with his soul at stake", and a girl's loss of virginity recalled more ruthlessly in the banjo ballad "My First Lover": "He was always talking, trying to bring me down/But I was not waiting for a white wedding gown/From my first lover." The mood of barbed nostalgia reaches its apogee in the closing "I Dream A Highway", a haunting reverie which ebbs and flows gently for 15 minutes without outstaying its welcome: the perfect conclusion to a near-perfect album.