The first time I heard the lead single from Margaret Glaspy’s third album, Echo The Diamond, the kicking guitar hook of “Act Natural” knocked me down, but her spirited vocal and insightful lyrics left me on the ground, stunned. And, once we tracked down the album, I was both surprised and pleased to hear how she sustains that creative spirit and artful communication spread across the album’s 10 tracks. While the top half of the album leans into the single’s rock energy and guitar punch, with her vocal delivery amped up to match the emotion of her songs, her unique personality, clever turns of phrase and curiously organic melodies that work just as well when she turns the volume and the pace down to allow a more thoughtful folk/rock tempo.
“Act Natural” taps that innocent longing that accompanies physical attraction, even as she suspects that fantasy plays a role in her immediate infatuation when she asks, “are you a paradise bird?/’Cause violet shines bright in both your eyes/That can’t be natural.” Glaspy’s approach to her melodies here, and often on her other songs as well, connects like spoken speech, adding a feel of authenticity in the thoughts she’s expressed, as if it’s coming naturally to her mind and isn’t some scripted lyrical poetry set to an obvious vocal hook. The immediacy of her vocal delivery connects all the way through these ten songs.
“Get Back” opens with crunchy, electric power chords, quieting for each of Glaspy’s verses, but comes back to drive the punchy choruses, and drives her vocally to hold a note for an impressively long time. She brings real passion to her insight that “when you’re dripping in your privilege/You don’t know the difference/Between what you want and what you need.” And, in case you think she’s tapped out of anger, she’s bolder and gritter on the feminist anthem, declaring her gorgeous “Female Brain.”
Then like a sorbet to cleanse the palate between heavy courses of a meal, “Irish Goodbye” arrives as a folk/rock song with a warm accessible melody line and vocal harmonies on the chorus, suitable to the sad tone that describes a tendency to slip away from social gatherings quietly, leaving without the usual farewells. Which sounds gentle, compared with the angry slow rant of “I Didn’t Think So,” with it’s big, ugly guitar chords in response to being “ripped at the seams like a rag doll.” Glaspy sings of “speaking my mind,” even though she’s “lost my voice,” but this song finds she’s quite able to get her thoughts across, but if you think you’re going to be able to “pull my strings like a puppet,” you’ve got another thing or two coming.
From that unabashed expression of vitriol, “Memories” is a quieter folk/rock reflection on coming to terms with life’s losses and grief, even if it is “too sad looking back.” That sad tone carries through “Turn the Engine,” where Glaspy acknowledges that “we’re all in the same boat, just trying to get by,” but it’s challenging when someone you care about is “at the end of your own rope, how it’s easy to be good to everyone but me.” “Hammer and a Nail,” has a stuttering rhythm locked in by drummer from the Bad Plus, David King, as she sings that “this goddam song is so true I can hardly sing along.” The folky blues of “My Eyes,” brings out Glaspy’s stronger voice, as she rises over the guitars of her partner and co-producer Julian Lage, and the struggle to believe that “it’s gonna be alright.” The record closes with another guitar ballad, “People Who Talk,” which concludes that we’d all be better off we could learn to listen to one another.
Along with Lage on guitar, and King on drums, Glaspy is joined by Chris Morrissey on bass, who’s played with Andrew Bird and Lucius, but these songs grow from her lived experience, smart, poetic insights, and a voice that cuts through the clutter of daily life with experience, wit, and resonance. That she can hold her own next to a loud, funky guitar, and then knows instinctively when to turn down the heat and just sing from the heart, makes this fine collection of songs all the more pleasing.
Brian Q. Newcomb
For more of Brian Q. Newcomb’s music reviews, check out The Fire Note
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