When her debut album appeared in 1996, Gillian Welch was a marked contrast to her contemporaries. Miles removed from the Lilith Fair generation, Welch offered a willfully anachronistic sound deeply rooted in the traditions of bluegrass, folk, and old-time country. With partner David Rawlings, she crafted striking original songs that sounded like they came from another era. Her participation in the craze-starting bluegrass soundtrack for O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? raised her profile considerably, though by 2001's TIME (THE REVELATOR) she had expanded her approach a bit beyond her old-school influences.
1996 debut produced by T. Bone Burnett, this earthy folk album was one of the strongest introductions of the year. Acony Records.
Gillian Welch has captured the ethos of mountain music in a way that few lowlanders have managed, and that's just a little disconcerting. Outsiders aren't supposed to be able to infiltrate tight-knit clans. Producer T-Bone Burnett creates intimacy by recording Welch live with a small cast of supporting players, including Welch's partner, David Rawlings. While many of the songs are built around duo acoustic guitars and two-part harmonies, Burnett spices up a few of them up with some neat tricks, mixing an upright bass above the vocals on "Pass You By" and getting a fat, dirty sound out of three instruments. Welch's vocals, meanwhile, are stoical and matter-of-fact as her songs, which are infused with a repressed dread and contrition that's utterly convincing. White gospel tunes like "Orphan Girl" and "By the Mark" feel as if they were culled from hymnals, yet they were written when Clinton, not Coolidge, was president. --Steven Stolder
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