By Chris Willman
Updated August 06, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Gillian Welch: Normand Parent

Unlike on her 1998 effort, the Southern gothic ”Hell Among the Yearlings,” there are no rapes, murders, or nasty apparitions on Gillian Welch’s subtler third effort, Time (the Revelator). Undiminished, though, is her and partner David Rawlings’ knack for penning originals that any ethnomusicologist would swear must’ve been written in the ’30s and cunningly suppressed till now, from the earthworkers’ hymn ”Red Clay Halo” to the Tin Pan Alley/ Dust Bowl crossover ballad ”Dear Someone.”

Ironically, while this is Welch’s quietest album, with nary a drum or electric instrument in earshot, it’s even closer to the spiritual vicinity of rock. Squint your ears during the sprawling title track and you can almost hear Neil Young & Crazy Horse having a tympanum splitting workout underneath the twin acoustic guitars. ”My First Lover” has Rawlings playing hard blues riffs on banjo while Welch nonchalantly relates how she remembers more about her first boyfriend’s Steve Miller records than she does about the beau in question. Then there’s a stretch of five songs that are actually about rock & roll, including a paean to Elvis that amazingly invokes all his animal energy without ever breaking a sweat or a Dobro string.