Hard to believe, but it’s twenty years since Gillian Welch released her groundbreaking debut album, Revival, immediately staking the claim as the most exciting name to emerge on the roots-Americana scene in the new millennium. To mark the occasions, she’s been through the archives and, along with musical partner David Rawlings, has put together Boots No 1: The Official Revival Bootleg, a double disc 21 track collection of demos, outtakes, alternate takes and other previously unreleased tracks.
Both discs open with versions of Orphan Girl, the first an alternate version (essentially a different acoustic guitar sound) while the second is the earliest home demo, a jauntier strummed take, recorded on a four-track with harmonised vocals. It’s one of two songs to appear here in two forms, the other being an alternate, less echoey mix of Paper Wings and, my preference, the original demo which keeps the Patsy Cline feel but moves it to a honky tonk.
As well as the opener, the first disc has a further four alternate versions, a slightly bluesier Annabelle, a version of Pass You By without the guitar distortion and not that different takes of By The Mark and Only One And Only. Over on disc two, there’s also an alternate version of One More Dollar.
On the demo front, you also get works in progress of Tear My Stillhouse Down (very stripped back), Acony Bell and, a song that never made it into the studio recordings, Dry Town, written a week after the duo opened for Johnny Cash and clearly under his influence. It did eventually get recorded, by Miranda Lambert on her Crazy Ex-Girlfriend chart topper.
They’re a further eight numbers that, while featured in the live shows and recorded, never made it on to Revival, all but one having never appeared on any of her albums. The slow waltzing bluegrass honky tonk swayer Go On Downtown comes with its own answer song, gently jogging slide guitar folk-blues I Don’t Want To Go Downtown. Only ever performed live once, the biggest rarity is another blues number, the sunny lazing jugbandish Georgia Road.
It’s clear why 455 Rocket (a hit for Kathy Mattea) didn’t make the cut, not because it’s bad song, it just sounds totally out of synch with everything else on the album, coming on like a cousin of Stuck In The Middle With You.
Elsewhere, both written soon after their move to Nashville, there’s the jaunty cottontail hayseeder Wichita and the wistful memories of Riverboat Song and a duet with Rawlings on the traditional Old Time Religion. The other outtake is a song that would eventually surface five years later on Time (The Revelator), the bluegrass bubbling Red Clay Halo, a title that would be eventually taken up by the multi-instrumental female trio who went on to collaborate with Emily Barker, another example of just how extensive Welch’s influence has been.
It would, of course, with five years since The Harrow & The Harvest, have been nicer to be reviewing an album of all new recordings; however, until that comes along in the fullness of time, this is one Revival meeting you really don’t want to miss.
Boots No 1: The Official Revival Bootleg is Out Now