This album has been a very long time coming. Gillian Welch released her last set, Soul Journey, in 2003, just a year after the soundtrack album for O Brother, Where Art Thou? (in which she appeared alongside Alison Krauss) won a Grammy. She became a country/folk celebrity, and yet for eight years there has been no follow-up, apparently because she was unhappy with her material. Now, at last, comes this brave, minimalist set of new songs that sound as if they have been around for decades. The opening Scarlet Town is an elegant lament that could be an undiscovered folk ballad, Silver Dagger is not the traditional song popularised by Joan Baez but a new piece that sounds like an Appalachian folk standard. Down the Dixie Line is a classic southern lament, and The Way It Goes is a jaunty, bleak story about a girl gone wrong. Welch writes fine, timeless melodies, and her mostly gloomy lyrics are performed in suitably mournful, no-nonsense style. She is accompanied by her partner David Rawlings, providing such sparse and thoughtful guitar backing that it comes as a shock when he adds a delicate burst of harmonica or thigh-slapping percussion.
Robin Denselow is a journalist and broadcaster who specialises in music and politics. He is the author of When The Music's Over, a history of political pop