Sunday, November 27, 2016


The first place I heard of Gillian Welch, or at least saw her name, wasn't on her own release, but rather on Emmylou Harris's landmark Wrecking Ball. the song Orphan Girl. The old-time sound of that track fit in some nowhere place, ancient yet alive, the way music should be, of the moment but of none as well. On this new set, we get to hear what Harris first heard, passed to her on a home-recorded cassette. Eight months later, it was the lead track on Welch's debut, Revival.

Usually on these anniversary deluxe sets, we get the original album, perhaps with a minor sonic upgrade, and then if we're lucky, another disc of out-takes, b-sides and live tracks, or maybe just a live concert from the time. I love this way: Welch and co. assume, quite correctly, that anyone interested would already own the original, so why make us buy twice? I don't expect major corporate labels to follow suit on eliminating that tried-and-true profit-maker, but cheers to Welch for being generous. Instead, we get a two-CD set of completely new tracks from the Revival sessions, and a promise of more to come, as this is called Boots 1. In total, there are 21 tracks, including eight songs that have never appeared elsewhere.

Welch's name and fame were quick to spread just before Revival came out. Performers were clamouring for her demos, and hotshot producer T Bone Burnett was on board. 455 Rocket became a hit for Kathy Mattea, and the outtake unused for Revival is heard here. It's pretty shocking just how good the songs that weren't used are, not even picked up for her second album. Wichita is another, an uptempo acoustic number with Welch (and of course, partner David Rawlings) picking some fun bluegrass. Some songs were saved, such as Red Clay Halo, which made it on Time (The Revelator), and here we get the version squeezed off the first album for the crime of having too many good songs.

There are some significant differences among the alternate and demo versions from what came out on Revival, including the more rocking take on Pass You By, and certainly no-one's going to say it's too similar. It's a whole new way to hear the songs. Certainly the dreamy version of Paper Wings will be more than enough, with very prominent pedal steel, Welch repurposed as Patsy Cline. She even does a Johnny Cash-inspired cut, Dry Town, another vault gem. This is right up there with the best reissues I know.

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