I'm so glad I live in the 21st century, a time when I can listen to an artist's
songs only seconds after reading about them on the internet. I first read about
Gillian Welch this morning at work. I was bored, so I surfed some websites and
read about this woman who formed her own label (Acony) and is releasing her third
album Time (the Revelator) on it. Off I went to AudioGalaxy
to download the album! It's only a few hours later and the album is ripped on
a plain white CD-R I stole from work, and it's sitting on my hardwood floor all
faceless, nameless, with "Verbatim" written on its label.
So maybe the 21st century isn't all it's cracked up to be. Afterall, there
is a price to pay for this lifestyle of instant pleasures. Maybe it's being bombarded
by meaningless slogans and corporate branding. Maybe it's the loss of personal
communication. Or maybe it's just that I can't see an album like Time (the
Revelator) ever getting the appreciation that it deserves. Even though
Welch appeared in Oh Brother, Where Art
Thou?(small moment of mainstream fame), I find it very unlikely that
her oldtime music would appeal to many looking for a quick download.
But the fact is that after downloading the first two songs on this album, I
sat transfixed. No ordinary person writes tunes this good! All the songs on this
album were written by Gillian Welch and her partner David Rawlings, who also plays
some of the most affecting acoustic guitar I've heard since Ida
covered Richard and Linda Thompson songs live! (Okay, I get un-cool points for
not hearing the original Richard and Linda Thompson tunes... boo-hoo!). The orchestration
is perfectly minimalist... none of the songs have more than harmony vocals, an
acoustic guitar and a banjo. And yet these songs sound more complete than any
of the deeply layered MBV-soundalike bands out there now.
More than just reproducing an old style of country music and trying to make
it authentic, Welch and Rawlings take the traditional form, digest it completely,
and play it with complete sincerity. The music sounds almost modern, maybe because
I can relate to the lyrics so much. Their tunes transcend time (mostly because
they'll still be some of the best country/folk tunes ever penned even a century
from now) and Welch knows it. "Queen of fakes and imitators/Time's the Revelator",
she sings in the first track. Only time will speak truthfully and reveal who the
fakes are... and she is not fake!
That said, the first track (also, title track) is like a slowed down Neil Young
epic ballad. Its goodness baffles me. My First Lover is a fun personal
romp with banjo and references to Steve Miller songs. Dear Someone is a
lullabye culled from some long lost distant time... except it was probably written
early this year. It's mournful yet sweetly optimistic. Red Clay Halo is
one of the few songs here that would please the new fans who bought the CD because
they wanted something that sounded like the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
soundtrack. Unfortunately for those people, Red Clay Halo is the only song
in that vein. It's damn good, though.
April the 14th Part 1 is sad, sad music... I was affected by it even
before I figured out that the epic lyrics were referencing the three events that
happened around the fateful day of April 14th -- the Titanic sinking, Lincoln's
assassination, and (maybe) the Oklahoma City bombing. I didn't need to know the
words, the music, her perfectly mournful voice, everything about the song breaks
I Want to Sing that Rock and Roll was performed live and included on
this album complete with the audience's applause and stellar acoustic guitar solo.
What's surprising is how well it fits into this album. Elvis Presley Blues
captures the essense and spirit of rock and roll, all while not rocking out.
Ruination Day Part 2 is a continuation of April the 14th... with
reworked musical parts. Images and words from part 1 creep up here, creating a
recollection in the listener's mind (like the recollection of the original events
themselves). The song's melody is quite different from part 1, so it sounds like
a different song. It's more haunting this time around...
"We're gonna do it anyway / Even if it doesn't pay" Welch declares in Everything
is Free. She goes on to sing "Everything I ever done / Gotta give it away."
I'm guessing this is her statement to the record label that she is now free from.
I wonder what Ms Welch thinks about MP3's. ;)
The last song
I Dream a Highway is a 15 minute long epic with Dylanesque lyrics. It's quite
repititious and it didn't really sink in the first few times I heard it. But the
more I listen to it the more I liked it... It's a comforting melody, and the perfect
ending for such a dreamy album. "I watched the waitress for a thousand years /
saw a wheel within a wheel / heard a call within a call / and I dreamed a highway
back to you."
I'm glad we've got the technology for me to download this album today. But
listening to it makes me yearn for some time 50 years ago. I guess time is a revelator.
PS - I do plan to buy this album, and pass this CD-R copy along to a friend
who doesn't know about her yet.