Gillian Welch | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Gillian Welch


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It's not that Gillian Welch has shaken her obsession with American roots music--on her fourth album, Soul Journey (released in June on Acony), she's kept her rustic sound, and in some ways her plaintive use of repetition owes more to blues structures than anything she's ever done. But now she's drawing her subject matter from her own past, not someone else's. "Oh my mother was just a girl of 17," she sings on "No One Knows My Name," a rumination on the biological parents she's never known. "And my dad was passing through / Doing things a man will do / When my mother was just a girl of 17." When she goes on to say of her adoptive parents, "Well I had a good mother and dad just the same," it's an explicit reference to the traditional song "I Had a Real Good Mother and Father"--which she also records here. The autobiographical focus isn't sustained throughout, but the songs here feel contemporary in a way the ones on previous records haven't. In "Look at Miss Ohio" a beauty queen decides to break free of the rigid expectations laid upon her, if only for a short while; on "Wayside/Back in Time" nostalgia for an era the singer's only read about is transmuted into longing for a romance she's left behind. Another nod to modernity on Soul Journey, produced by Welch's longtime partner (musical and otherwise), guitarist David Rawlings, is the appearance of a full rock band on a few tracks--including Son Volt bassist Jim Boquist, Dobro master Greg Leisz, and fiddler Ketch Secor--with Rawlings and Welch herself turning in some wonderfully spare drumming. For this show, her first in Chicago in two years, she'll be accompanied by Rawlings only. Tuesday, September 16, 8 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 773-472-0449 or 312-559-1212.

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