Gillian Welch’s bare-bones approach to roots music will come as no surprise to fans of the singer’s first two albums, Revival and Hell Among the Yearlings. Despite formal training at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Welch and musical partner David Rawlings produce music full of raw, front-porch soul. Their stark, minimalist approach — two guitars and two voices, with the occasional guest musician — broke all the formulas of today’s folk and country music by hewing close to the music’s traditional roots.
Time is even more stripped down than its predecessors. Welch and Rawlings produced themselves with no studio effects — just two guitars and two voices intertwining. And like Welch’s earlier albums, the ten tunes on Time reveal new aspects on every listen. “Red Clay Halo,” a somewhat forsaken gospel tune, hints at both salvation and the fear of death. “My First Lover” and “Dear Someone” benefit from Welch’s vulnerable alto, sounding at each breath like she’s about to break into tears, while Rawlings’ close harmony vocals are so perfect they bring to mind the sibling harmonies of both the Delmore and Louvin Brothers. As before, the tunes are marked by beautifully poignant melodies and sparse yet deeply poetic lyrics. Welch’s writing continues to deepen and surprise, nowhere more than on “Elvis Presley Blues.” Most songs about the life, death, and art of Elvis have reeked of maudlin sentimentality, drowned in their own clichés, or tried to echo Presley’s work with extensive musical or lyrical quotes. Welch takes a different tack, capturing the magic and tragedy of Elvis with a handful of beautifully constructed similes and a tune that has nothing to do with anything the King ever recorded. It’s a transcendent work, and like so much of Welch’s music, maintains a perfect balance between desolation and redemption.