Gillian Welch: Soul Journey

Gillian Welch: Soul Journey

Visions of music stardom often encompass excess: stadium tours, millions of units shifted, mobs of fans, placement on magazine covers and billboards. But for many practical veteran performers, the dream entails a happy medium of packed midsized clubs with excellent sound, steady sales on small labels that share royalties, and the sort of modest fame that allows for private walks in the neighborhood and hassle-free grocery-shopping expeditions. After Revival and Hell Among The Yearlings received great reviews and minuscule sales with corporate support, Gillian Welch saw the latter dream come true virtually overnight, thanks to her memorable placement on the godzillion-selling 2000 soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? With that credential tucked safely away, Welch smartly settled in on a tiny label and began cranking out the sort of sleepers she clearly wants to make: Like 2001's Time (The Revelator), Soul Journey finds her and collaborator David Rawlings making subtly searing front-porch folk-country, often sparing the embellishments for songs that are by turns raw, spare, direct, and achingly pretty. Front-loaded with warm, rustic ballads ("Look At Miss Ohio," "I Had A Real Good Mother And Father," the near-perfect "Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor"), Soul Journey narrows Time's ambitious thematic vision, sticking primarily to songs about love, death, heartbreak, and family. And, aside from the overlong "One Monkey"–which attempts that trickiest of balancing acts, the whimsical dirge, and fails–she doesn't miss a step, even on contemporary-sounding, rock-oriented material like the shambling album-closer "Wrecking Ball." Sounding more confident than ever in her small-scale stardom, Welch looks to be settling in for a few fruitful decades, a prospect that couldn't sound more appealing for everyone involved.

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