Music » Critics' Picks

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings

Wednesday, September 8; Mississippi Nights


For years most everyone got everything wrong about Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, or so their last two records, Time (the Revelator) and Soul Journey, would have us believe. Enough with all this talk of channeling the Stanley Brothers, dressing like Bible salesmen and holding songwriting séances with moonshiners and murder balladeers. We're all pretenders, victims of history, and there's nothing more inauthentic than denying your soul's obsessions. Along with spooky, beautiful harmonies, the chilling clang of a banjo, and the sound of images like "cool cathode ray" and "quicksilver girl," their recent work broods over addictions real and imagined, assassinations both political and spiritual, the wrecking ball of love and time, and snare hits so tense and deep they could have been sampled from Madvillian. Rock & roll's much-noted and ongoing assault on the country order haunts their revisions; the duo loves toying with the threat, testing how resilient, how profligate tradition might really be. By comparison, freaky modernizers like Big and Rich sound like quaint contrivances; for Welch and Rawlings a little innovation called genius will suffice.

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