Revival was one of THE albums of the 90s, a maddeningly, deceptively simple and straightforward-sounding record that was a benchmark for backporch (and alt- and Americana, come to that); one whose iconic status has only grown and grown in the subsequent years. This year its 20th anniversary is marked by the release of this handsome two-disc set that collects together 21 outtakes, alternate versions and demos from the making of the original album. It's a collectors' paradise, and totally self-recommending to anyone who like me had fallen under the spell of the original album and who's worn out its grooves (so to speak) over the years. Gillian herself has personally curated this anniversary set, although I wouldn't guarantee that the tracks gathered here represent everything left in the vaults from the proverbial cutting-room floor upwards or that there really is nothing more to unearth. Even so, this is a real treasure trove!
I could expend several column inches on detailed comparisons of these variants and the original Revival tracks, but I'll leave that pleasure to you and just pick on a few even more obvious reasons why y'all need this set. Let's start with the eight songs that never made it onto Revival. Seven of them never even appeared on any record, although they've featured in Gillian's live shows throughout. OK, so some of them, notably the full-on r'n'r 455 Rocket (which was to be a hit for Kathy Mattea) and the bluesy, rarely-performed-since Georgia Road, most probably wouldn't have fitted in; Go On Downtown was likely omitted simply because it was a cover (of a Robert Earl Keen song), without which Gillian's "response-song" I Don't Want To Go Downtown wouldn't have made as much sense; and Old Time Religion was most likely excised due to a slight technical blemish. But the dropping of Riverboat Song and long-standing crowd favourite Wichita seems less obviously explainable. The eighth "reject", Red Clay Halo, finally surfaced on Gillian's third album (Time The Revelator) around four years later; but hearing this song as a first-album outtake makes me wonder even more why it hadn't gotten included on Revival.
The set contains five demos (two home and three studio), of which the original 1993 home demo of Orphan Girl earns its place in history by being the one of which a cassette was given to Tim & Mollie O'Brien and then Emmylou Harris, both artists' renditions making it onto disc before Revival appeared. The home demo of Paper Wings is also delectable, as is the swinging studio demo of the very Johnny-Cash-influenced Dry Town (which includes a magnificent bass solo from Roy Huskey Jr.).
The seven alternate takes presented here are all worth having, although the most radical difference appears on Orphan Girl, which features producer T Bone Burnett on guitar. I also liked the extra pedal steel glistening on Paper Wings, the sheer abandon of Annabelle and the more stripped-back (and distortion-free) Pass You By. The final item is a wonderfully intimate live early-hours-radio take of Barroom Girls from July 1995 that includes a harmony part not on the album version.
This is an anniversary edition that with its lavish presentation justly celebrates the immense importance - and continual ongoing influence - of the Welch-Rawlings partnership (on which was bestowed the Americana Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting in 2015)… and the mighty original album. It's a mandatory supplement to that remarkable, timeless release. No question.
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