#348: Time (The Revelator), Gillian Welch
I love a hard pivot, like the one we’re doing now, from cerebral rap to sparse folk. I wonder if GZA ever listens to Gillian Welch? Or vice versa?
A year and a half ago, I pulled into Kansas City listening to this record, and it struck me right between the eyes. That was when I realized that I had truly gotten over my distaste for singer-songwriters. Personal growth, people.
Welch’s career got catapulted by the 2000 movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but she had been making folk music since 1996, mainly with guitarist David Rawlings. (Who I think is also her romantic partner, though online evidence of this is even more sparse than their musical style.)
Rawlings and Welch are a great musical match — in fact, several songs here were apparently recorded completely off-the-cuff. The take of “Revelator” on the record was just a mic check, and existential fifteen-minute finale “I Dream A Highway” had never been rehearsed before they laid it out. That floored me when I learned it, because her voice sounds so warm and perfect! I guess that’s why I never made it as a folk rock star.
Welch’s career is based in a rootsy, Americana tradition that doesn’t make the airwaves like it used to. (See “I Want To Sing That Rock And Roll,” the only live track on the album.) Appropriately, she’s constantly referencing history — musical history (“Elvis Presley Blues”) but also real history. “April the 14th Part 1” and its minor-keyed continuation, “Ruination Day Part 2” actually taught me some things, mainly how many bad things happened on April 14th. Also, that Casey Jones was a real person, not just a Grateful Dead song.
Much of the album sounds like it could have been written a hundred years earlier. Even though songs like “My First Lover” and “Red Clay Halo” are both current-sounding and relatable, nothing about the lyrics or instrumentation suggests that they aren’t just traditional folk songs. Even her wildly prescient song about the streaming industry, “Everything Is Free,” has no real marks of being written post-2000. (Keep in mind, this was 2001, so she’s probably writing about Napster.)
When we moved into the house we live in now, I played this record constantly, in every room of the house. Something about filling my house with lilting voices and guitars just felt very right and romantic. Now, it kind of feels like my home’s theme music.
Least Favorite: I’ve listened to this album probably fifty times and “Dear Someone” has never made an impression on me. Like, I can sing along to every othersong, and then I just check out for that one. Sorry, Gillian.