"Time (The Revelator)" as written by and Gillian Welch David Rawlings....
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Lyrics submitted by pomegranatesROCK, edited by smallwonderrobot, GDW

Time (The Revelator) song meanings
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  • +5
    General CommentI think it's about Gillian Welch coming to realise that most of her songs are about times and situations that she's not experienced herself. Therefore, though she's in love with the folk music of the '20s and '30s, she can't be considered an authentic voice ("I'm a pretender, I'm not what I'm supposed to be"). She hopes she is doing the music justice ("But who could know if I’m a traitor? Time’s the revelator.").

    It is "They caught the Katy and left me a mule to ride". To catch the Katy is to jump onto one of the goods carriages of a moving train and hitch a free ride, common practice for those crossing the country looking for work duing the depression (the authentic voices). She's saying they experienced the real thing, she is left with only an echo of those times.

    I think it's "and all the spindles white", i.e. the waggon wheels used as decoration on houses, which are generally painted white. They're meant as tokens of rural authenticity, but ("everyday it's getting straighter"), that they're equally pretenders. She's tired of the pretensions and sets off for California, she no longer feels the need to live the rural life to write songs. Time's the revelator :)
    Paegaon August 24, 2005   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThe song is Welch's answer to the critics who labelled her unauthentic for her first two albums, saying she had no right to sing bluegrass cos she's from California. This song is her supremely eloquent reply that should have a few music journos jumping off cliffs from shame. nIt's the opening salvo to the best album ever and one that I still listen to daily.
    bearhunteron March 22, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"They caught the Cady and left me a mule to ride "

    I believe this should be "They caught the Katy..." in reference to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. Also a line the Taj Mahal song "she caught the Katy, and left me on a mule to ride"
    bluedogbeadson January 31, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think Paega's right on the money here. This song seems like Gillian's answer to her critics who question her "Appalachian authenticity" because of the fact she grew up as a California valley girl. "Who could know, if I'm a traitor? Time's the Revelator"...i.e...only time will tell if her songs will stand up to the classics of Ralph Stanley, Carter Family, etc...

    The line about the "Fortune Lady" could be a reference to Emmylou Harris, who was the first major artist to record one of Welch's songs (Orphan Girl). But maybe not ;)

    The line "watch the waves and move the faders" seems like a direct reference to recording in a digital type (Pro Tools) environment, where the audio waveforms actually move across the computer screen, and the faders are the volume sliders on the mixing console. This once again points out the collision between "then" (when records were sung into one mic, straight to acetate disk) and "now". But waves also serve as a double reference, with their more obvious meaning being the California ocean.

    The last two lines are particularly revealing, and are sung (especially live) with quite an edgy, somewhat bitter tone. "Queen of fakes, and imitator"...almost as if those are the vicious words coming straight out of a critic's mouth.

    This is a heck of a song, lyrically AND melodically. David Rawlings has one of the keenest sence of harmony I've ever heard. He perfectly comlements Gillian on this tune.
    jtharrison October 19, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti feel extremly stupid because i have not a clue what these lyrics mean. BUT i fell in love w/ Gillian Welch when i heard this song cause it's the first on her cd.. then , i found this AMAZING live accoustic version of this song w/ Ryan Adams and Gillian Welch. wow. it's fantabulous... the harmonies... and the guitar... perfecto.
    pomegranatesROCKon July 28, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commenthmm i never heard this song but i read the lyrics..

    i kind of seems in the beginning of the song, hes flashing back, and then in the middle of the song where he says "They caught the Cady and left me a mule to ride ". i guess someone kidnapped her, i don't know and he is lost without her.

    I dont know-- UYI
    UseYourIllusionon July 28, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI just discovered Gillian Welch, but becasue of this song I am hooked. She sings with deep emotion and tells a great story. This song has touched me more than just about any other to date. A must listen!
    Jackdata1128on August 02, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI don't know what all the lyrics mean, but the theme of the song, to me, is Time Reveals All. Verse 1 - Time reveals the person's intentions. Verse 2 - One's culture reveals her time(age). Have no idea what the rese means.

    Check out the rest of her music, she's awesome.
    leighannh2on May 14, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think it's about Gillian Welch coming to realise that most of her songs are about times and situations that she's not experienced herself. Therefore, though she's in love with the folk music of the '20s and '30s, she can't be considered an authentic voice ("I'm a pretender, I'm not what I'm supposed to be"). She hopes she is doing the music justice ("But who could know if I’m a traitor? Time’s the revelator.").

    It is "They caught the Katy and left me a mule to ride". To catch the Katy is to jump onto one of the goods carriages of a moving train and hitch a free ride, common practice for those crossing the country looking for work duing the depression (the authentic voices). She's saying they experienced the real thing, she is left with only an echo of those times.

    I think it's "and all the spindles white", i.e. the waggon wheels used as decoration on houses, which are generally painted white. They're meant as tokens of rural authenticity, but ("everyday it's getting straighter"), that they're equally pretenders. She's tired of the pretensions and sets off for California, she no longer feels the need to live the rural life to write songs. Time's the revelator :)
    Paegaon August 24, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's getting out. It's discovering that time is moving and everything doesn't always workout alright. I think she is trying to convey that it
    s easy to glorify time, but when it comes to it, times a revelator.
    Jstraw2001on May 27, 2007   Link

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