The packed El Rey felt more like some faraway Kentucky neighbor’s back porch at sunset, the reverential vibe in the hushed room adding extra weight to the ballads of folk singer Gillian Welch and her longtime partner David Rawlings. Their songs deftly explored themes of lost (and found) souls, the hunt for inner fortitude and love for the land we live on.
Welch’s new album “Time (The Revelator),” the first on her own Acony Records after two for defunct Almo Sounds (and on the heels of her acclaimed contribution to the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack), includes a slight rock ‘n’ roll twist in the songwriting and arranging. But her trademark alt-bluegrass style remains intact onstage.
The first of two sets on Friday included well-rendered songs from all three of Welch’s albums. Evening opened with the sweet, semiautobiographical “Orphan Girl,” the first track on Welch’s debut album “Revival” (1996), marked by the unique way in which the duo’s vocals interact with one another — plaintive yet hopeful, sad yet proud.
Other highlights of the stirring perf included the new slow-waltz “Dear Someone,” which unfolded in a deliberate, soothing fashion, and the delicate 1998 entry “My Morphine,” an affecting tale of dependence. Other standouts included “Everything Is Free,” Welch’s stinging response to toiling for a major record label, and the banjo-bearing “Rock of Ages.”