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With only their guitars, banjos, mandolins, voices, and original songs, Gillian Welch and her redoubtable collaborator, David Rawlings, have fashioned a powerful, labyrinthine, time warp of a record. This elegantly recorded duo takes its cue from mournful, Appalachian folk songs and folklore. But eerily enough, there's something uniquely contemporary here -- glistening flat-picking, air-brushed reverb on the bluesy guitar work, and lyrics that mine folk themes (love, commitment, and Faustian bargains made and then paid for dearly) with a poetic, modern cool. "Dear Someone" is a dreamy and romantic paean to a significant other; "My First Lover" is a tortured, regretful account of a night of drunken revelry; bright and bouncy, "The Red Clay Halo" features a sparkling Rawlings solo enlivening its narrator's assertion of the glory that awaits in Heaven. Rawlings's step-it-up-and-go guitar work on the live recording of "I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll" (taken from the Down from the Mountain collection) evokes the big beat even as his and Welch's close harmony singing conjures the spirit of the Louvin Brothers. "Elvis Presley Blues" is a lilting country blues meditation on the tragic price visionaries pay, ultimately finding a connection between the Hillbilly Cat and that hammerin' man of myth, John Henry. The Welch-Rawlings sound signature reaches its apex on the 14-minute album-closing epic, "I Dream a Highway." This deliberately paced, ambitious work seems to describe a hallucinatory journey that begins on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and with each verse ascends further into the ether of imagination. Fevered lines such as "I'm an indisguisable shade of twilight" and "I'll take you as a viper into my head" (and another John Henry reference in the lyric "I want to die with a hammer in my hand") are offset by a wistful, refrain, "I dreamed a highway back to you," pulling the narrative back from the surreal. Time (The Revelator) could not be better titled: The secrets herein have to be dug out, and that takes a while. But the effort is well worth it.