Gillian Welch

Soul Journey

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Gillian Welch and David Rawlings may, in fact, shock and appall folk purists with their fourth album, Soul Journey. "Are those drums?" "Is that an organ?" "Wait a minute, is that an electric bass?!?" The album uses these musical elements to drive home a living-room, lazy-summertime jam-session feel that hasn't really shown itself on Welch's previous releases. The album's opener, "Look at Miss Ohio," evolves into her toughest rocker since "Pass You By" on her debut, Revival, and the whole album culminates in the relative cacophony of "Wrecking Ball," a drunked-up barroom stumble highlighted by Ketcham Secor's loping fiddle lines and Rawlings' fuzzed-out guitar solo. Between these bookends is a mixed bag of traditional folk songs ("Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor," "I Had a Real Good Mother and Father"), loose blues phrasing ("Lowlands," "No One Knows My Name"), and a number of trademark Welch/Rawlings near-whispered murder ballads and orphan love songs. The thing that shines through most clearly is that the group had a lot of fun making Soul Journey, but that doesn't necessarily translate into a terrific album. Aside from a handful of real solid honest-to-gosh gems, the whole album feels a little too casual and off-the-cuff to stand on equal footing with her other recordings. The choruses often become just repeated phrases over and over again ("Lowlands," "No One Knows My Name," "I Made a Lovers Prayer," and the unfortunate "One Monkey"), and the songwriting seems less developed, as if the initial construction of the song has taken a back seat to the sheer enjoyment of performing it. That being said, it is a wonderful, dusty summertime front-porch album, full of whiskey drawls and sly smiles, floorboard stomps and screen-door creeks. While it does not exactly meet the impeccable standards that her previous three releases set, it is still a fine addition to her discography and well worth listening to all summer long.

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