Music » CD Reviews

Gillian Welch

Time (The Revelator) (Acony)


Cribbing its title from Blind Willie Johnson's field classic "John the Revelator," Gillian Welch's Time (The Revelator) is a rustic rumination on life, death, and music. The album celebrates rock and roll through a series of tunes -- "I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll" and "Elvis Presley Blues," most obviously -- and thoughts that eventually end up as Welch and partner David Rawlings's testament to their own little place in it. Welch's first two albums, 1996's Revival and 1998's Hell Among the Yearlings, channeled the spirit of American folk music through a sparse intensity that worked as both tribute and continuation of legacy. The ghosts of Blind Willie Johnson and his Harry Smith-endorsed contemporaries were never far removed.

Time (The Revelator) is haunted even more by specters from the past. Traditional folk heroes such as Casey Jones and John Henry show up in songs, as do more modern ones like Elvis and the migrant Okies of both John Steinbeck's and Woody Guthrie's oeuvres. Welch and Rawlings, accompanying themselves on acoustic guitars, complete the evocative trilogy with this resplendent work. The bookends, "Revelator" and the 14-minute closer "I Dream a Highway," set up and resolve the album's thematic ties, but "April the 14th Part I" grounds its middle. Offering an allegory for mundane, daily dread, the song is a weighty meditation on the cycle of life. It's modern Appalachian folk (Welch was one of the three singing sirens in O Brother, Where Art Thou?) at its most timeless.

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