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Welch the Revelator

Gillian Welch's new record marks a testing of the very limits of that "confessional singer/songwriter" mode

"But we are the producers, the label, the songwriters, the act," she continues. "It was a big lesson in accountability, in all respects, creative and financial. If this record had come out and stiffed, I would be completely bankrupt. I'm not even kidding a little bit."

Even with her participation on the multiplatinum O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Welch is far from fiscal security: "I'm not gonna see shit from that album. I could tell you to the penny how much I'll see, and you'd laugh. That doesn't matter; that's not why I was involved in that project. It's a little bit too bad that Mercury is gonna make a ton of money off it but nobody else is. But that's neither here nor there. That's just how big labels work."

If Time (The Revelator) marks a beginning, it also marks an accounting, a raising of the stakes and a testing of the very limits of that confessional singer/songwriter mode. Welch digs back into the earliest confessions, those harrowing folk and blues songs, which, traditional or not, were born from experience. Time (The Revelator) is about revelations, visions, admonitions and dreams, which, in the end, always seem obscure. For Son House, John, the author of the Bible's last book, was the Revelator because he was a visionary.

For Welch, Time is the revelator, because she knows that time alone will reveal what we only speculate about here and now. The title track combines the ominous absurdity of Dylan's John Wesley Harding-era parables -- "Nothing is revealed," Dylan's neighbor boy mutters at the end of "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" -- with the ominous melodic and lyrical quality of Young's "Cortez the Killer" and "Ambulance Blues." Welch faces those thorny questions of artistic authenticity head-on: All the doubts that have always swirled around her work have, perhaps, cut deeper than we could have known: "Darling, remember, when you come to me/that I'm the pretender, and not what I'm supposed to be/But who could know if I'm a traitor/Time's the revelator."

What does time reveal? A voice, two guitars and songs whose beauty time can never steal.

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