Fans of Gillian Welch and her longtime foil David Rawlings’s reimagining of early country and bluegrass are used to being patient. Until a month ago, the pair had only released five albums proper under her name, and three in his, since Welch’s 1996 debut, Revival. But after their studio, with all their old recordings, was almost destroyed by a tornado in March, they’ve changed tack. Hot on the heels of July’s covers album, All the Good Times Are Past and Gone, comes the follow-up to 2016’s first batch of archive recordings, The Official Revival Bootleg, with two more volumes promised for the coming months.
The 16 songs here (and the 32 more scheduled to appear imminently) were all recorded during one productive weekend in December 2002, but then discarded before the following year’s Soul Journey. Listening now, it’s hard to figure out why. Although they are demos, with little more in play than guitar and Welch’s voice, they sound fully realised. First Place Ribbon, about barefoot Kathy, “the kinda girl likes the dust between her toes”, rattles along with an irresistible momentum; the narrator of the brooding Shotgun Song fantasises about escaping the chain gang; Valley of Tears is as desolately beautiful as its name suggests. That Welch and Rawlings have sat on such inspired recordings for almost two decades makes you wonder what other hidden treasures might be forthcoming.