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No other contemporary artists do downtempo Americana better than Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. On last year's Grammy-nominated CD Time (The Revelator) — as well as the pair's first two albums — their extreme slow-motion style draws listeners into a heartland of wistful reflections on life, love, and longing. The songs are just sad enough to evoke empathy, without leading to feelings of hopelessness; in fact, the opposite is true. Tunes such as “I Dream a Highway,” which clocks in at a remarkably entrancing 15 minutes, provide a strange sort of melancholy uplift, as Welch sings, “Oh, I dream a highway back to you, love/ A winding ribbon with a band of gold/ A silver vision come and rest my soul.”

Welch and Rawlings find solace in the act of longing, which allies their efforts (both lyrically and musically) with the great folk, gospel, bluegrass, and rock 'n' roll players of yesteryear. Using only a bare-bones setup of vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar, banjo, and mandolin, their emotion-rich tunes come across with an honesty and immediacy that's compelling. Like the popular soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which featured fine collaborations among Welch, Alison Krauss, and Emmylou Harris, Time (The Revelator) gamely transcends generations. By drawing deeply from the past to make its mark in the present, the album all but guarantees a long future for the artists.

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