Welch and Rawlings (aided by T-Bone and a crack band on several tracks) made a stunner of a debut with this 1996 album. Beautiful and timeless sounding, it includes Orphan Girl; Tear My Stillhouse Down; Barroom Girls; One More Dollar; Paper Wings , and more!
Gillian Welch has captured the ethos of mountain music in a way that few lowlanders have managed, and that's just a little disconcerting. Outsiders aren't supposed to be able to infiltrate tight-knit clans. Producer T-Bone Burnett creates intimacy by recording Welch live with a small cast of supporting players, including Welch's partner, David Rawlings. While many of the songs are built around duo acoustic guitars and two-part harmonies, Burnett spices up a few of them up with some neat tricks, mixing an upright bass above the vocals on "Pass You By" and getting a fat, dirty sound out of three instruments. Welch's vocals, meanwhile, are stoical and matter-of-fact as her songs, which are infused with a repressed dread and contrition that's utterly convincing. White gospel tunes like "Orphan Girl" and "By the Mark" feel as if they were culled from hymnals, yet they were written when Clinton, not Coolidge, was president. --Steven Stolder