Gillian Welch: Soul Journey (Acony Records)

Welch’s talent is a gift, and Rawlings’ production always seems to put her in the right package.

Gillian Welch is a folk crooner. She is that rare songwriter that combines vivid storytelling with a vocal style as unique as the Chairman of the Board himself. While breaking the girl-plus-guitar singer/songwriter mold, Welch takes her storytelling to a new level on Soul Journey.

The album opens with the sweet, sultry “Look at Miss Ohio,” a tale of a woman living her life “runnin’ around with a ragtop down.” Welch fleshes out Miss Ohio’s conflict as she growls, “She says I wanna do right/But not right now.” Here Welch shares songwriting credits with producer David Rawlings, as she does on seven of the album’s ten songs.

A talented ensemble adds to the strengths Welch and Rawlings brought to 2001’s Time (The Revelator). On “One Monkey,” a full band builds steam behind Welch’s voice as she chants, “One monkey don’t stop the show.” Greg Leisz’s dobro, Jim Boquist’s bass, and Ketcham Secor’s fiddle provide coal for the fire. “So get on board,” Welch calls. “Here comes the freight train.”

Before Soul Journey, Welch never released anything featuring just her unaccompanied voice and guitar. The stark “One Little Song” and traditional blues number “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” prove to be good companions to the album’s sonically broader numbers. Still, experiments are rarely complete successes; the traditional song “I Had a Real Good Mother and Father” falls short of the bar set by the rest of the album.

Welch’s talent is a gift, and Rawlings’ production always seems to put her in the right package. Soul Journey proves once again that a voice and a story can take an artist a long way, but people can go to greater heights when surrounded by talented friends.

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