Tonality: "Time (The Revelator)"
Gillian Welch’s 2001 sophomore album “Time (The Revelator)” triumphs not only as an outstanding album, but also as a smooth concoction of blues, country and folk. Welch’s songwriting is as poignant as it is weathered. Lyrically timeless, “Time (The Revelator)” is an album worth revisiting year after year, each time providing new insight to Welch’s lyrics.
Welch has defied many of the folk stereotypes that have been in place for years. Born in Los Angeles, she opened the door for future artists to pursue folk songwriting while shattering the assumption that the best folk music came from the South. Welch also proved that through a respect for tradition, motifs and songwriting, a folk artist could land Top 10 rankings on three different Billboard charts.
With songwriting partner and producer David Rawlings, Welch wrote “Time” with instrumental elements from blues and country to create a tapestry of guitars and mandolins blanketing her vocals. Rawlings’ fingerpicked guitar provides a subtle yet rich accompaniment while he harmonizes with Welch.
Songs like “Red Clay Halo” emphasize the loneliness of country life, as Welch sings, “The girls all dance with the boys from the city but they don’t care to dance with me / Well it ain’t my fault that the fields are muddy and the red clay stains my feet.” The song marries country and bluegrass with traditional folk lyricism.
“Everything Is Free Now” is perhaps the simplest, yet provocative critique of streaming culture. “Everything is free now,” Welch sings, before Rawlings joins in with a soft harmony. “Everything I’ve ever done, they’re gonna give it away.”
Welch wrote the song during the Napster revolution. She envisioned a world where music would no longer be viewed as a sustainable career and that many would cave in to the discouragement that accompanies this model.
It’s as if Welch saw the future and was heartbroken by her discoveries. “Someone hit the big score,” she croons. “They figured it out. That we’re gonna do it anyway. Even if it doesn’t pay.”
“Time” defines context in a typical folk fashion. The best folk songs are still covered and performed today, celebrated for their contributions to many artists’ development. Welch has created her own timeless folk songs. Recently, “Time” has been celebrated by the likes of Courtney Barnett, and the record has become a favorite for many modern folk duos.
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings may not have realized that they were writing a prophetic album that would change the accessibility of folk music, but that’s exactly the point. The honesty and tenderness of voice and acoustic guitar provide a certain clarity. The duo made one of the greatest of their time.