This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):
“I’m the Pretender / I am what I’m supposed to be,” alt-folk balladeer Gillian Welch tells us in the opening seconds of her third album. After a few minutes, it’s clear that what she’s supposed to be — or at least yearns to be — is a rocker.
Not in the literal sense; Welch hasn’t traded in her sundresses for leather mini-skirts, nor has she abandoned the Americana traditionalism that is her musical homeland. In fact, this is her starkest CD yet, with 10 mesmerising songs built from acoustic guitars, banjos and the voices of herself and partner David Rawlings, playing timeless folk and singing loose, lovely harmony. It’s what they sing that tips Welch’s hand. The melodies may be ancient but her lyrics are almost punk in their edgy intensity and contemporary relevance. Revelator and My First Lover offer tales of frank sexuality and doomed romance, and Welch riddles the album with musical references from Steve Miller’s Quicksilver Girl to Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash. It’s Elvis that seems to fascinate her, though; Welch, recording in The King’s old Nashville studio, ponders his life and death in Elvis Presley Blues and confesses her desire to rip it up and on the magnificent I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll. Gillian, you’re already doing it. Just like you’re supposed to.