GILLIAN WELCH plays the Phoenix July 25. See listing. Rating: NNNNN
It took Nashville's Gillian Welch and musical partner Dave Rawlings eight years to make their deeply rewarding fifth album, yet it sounds anything but laboured, fussy or obsessed over. That's likely because, after years of unsatisfying results, most of the 10 songs came in a welcome creative burst that began just this past October.
Welch uniquely updates Appalachian folk, bluegrass and early country to make sparse, dark, intimate Americana that's like the sonic equivalent of Flannery O'Connor stories. Her imagery is rural and religious, her accent and language Southern and her characters lonesome. She's unapologetically languid and bleak, though here her yearning contralto resolves on major notes more often than it did in the past. The choruses are stronger, the harmonies, guitar and banjo lines as tasteful as ever, and the brittle edge that crept into 2003's Soul Journey is nowhere to be found.
While opener Scarlet Town recycles familiar Welchian melodies and phrasings, more often she breaks new ground, melodically and lyrically, like on the upbeat The Way It Goes, the revelatory Tennessee and final tune The Way The Whole Thing Ends.
Top track: Tennessee