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If you’re looking for the victor in 1996’s great neo-trad country showdown (women’s division), Gillian Welch’s Revival squashes Iris DeMent’s The Way I Should like a grape. Purists, who observe that former Kmart clerk DeMent is the child of Arkansas fundamentalists, while the parents of the Berklee-trained Welch wrote tunes for The Carol Burnett Show, are loathe to admit that the “authenticity” of this stuff is more a matter of style and taste than personal provenance. But while they praise the plainspokenness of DeMent’s lyrics, they overlook that on her quieter material she reliably oversings. Not that DeMent is playing the naif anymore. The Way I Should is the beneficiary of rockin’ big-team arrangements (nine players per track on average), which, however unfortunate, have the virtue of standing up to her voice better than did earlier acoustic settings. And DeMent has gone topical, taking on Vietnam, child sexual abuse, and “CEOs making 200 times the workers’ pay” (could she be working for one herself?). The danger that she’ll turn into another folkie with a bug up her ass for the usual troubles is dispelled by her being ever the convert—the fervor is bona fide. After Revival, though, even some of this disc sounds saccharine, as if you’re digging into a bowl of Cap’n Crunch right after a Granny Smith. My wife and car-singing partner, the granddaughter of a bootlegger and farmer who has never seen the ocean, agrees. Still, that won’t keep us from tonight’s show: This year, being second’s no big disgrace. At 8 p.m. at the Birchmere, 3901 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. $17.50. (703) 549-5919. (Glenn Dixon)