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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

An Earful: introducing Margaret Glaspy


A Review of Glaspy’s new album, her performance at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

When I discovered that Margaret Glaspy — the talented, toothy-grinned musician that occupied my Spotify for the entirety of July — would be playing at San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, there was little that could stop me from attending.

So with my blanket, six-pack and eagerness in tow, I made my way through Golden Gate Park. Anxiously snaking through the crowds, I only thrice forgot about the entourage of friends trailing behind me. (Claiming that I “snaked,” however, is a bit too kind; my pace more closely resembled that of a hungry viking hunting the last wild boar).

Glaspy primarily played tracks from her newest album, Emotions and Math, and all but lacked the growling vocals and buzzing guitar that characterize it. Though Glaspy released her first work (a five-track EP) in 2012, it is the simplicity of her electric guitar, offset by her haunting vocal fluctuations, that gives her newer gwork a bit more spunk. As a solo act backed only by a bassist and drummer on stage, Glaspy is truly original.

Her stage presence oscillates just like her outfit: her ruffled blue dress for the melodic swing of her voice and the chunky white sneakers for each twanging guitar riff. But more worthy of our attention is her relatability as a musician, whether it be her bad one-liners (“It’s only me singing this two-part song. We call it a duet on a budget”) or the profundity of her lyrics in day-to-day life.

Simply put, Glaspy is loveable for her ability to be so easily loved.

“Somebody to Anybody,” a personal favorite track from Emotions and Math, is a perfect example of this down-to-earth nature and the music that stems from it. Most interesting about this track, however, is that within its self-deprecating lyrics, there’s a greater message of strength in anonymity: “I don’t wanna be somebody to anybody, no. I’m good at no one.”

On a more literal level, the song continues, “I keep my head down and both eyes wide / I don’t look up, just side to side / but I stay well kept so they can see / There’s nothing wrong with me.” It’s safe to say that everyone has, at some point, felt this way: when we feel out of place or without purpose, we “stay well kept” for the sake of public perception.

And so, though the chorus, “I’m good at no one,” is far from a cry of confidence, it is somehow self-assuring that we — both literally and metaphorically — belong to no one.

This song, however, remains consistent with the album’s greater theme: long distance relationships.

In fact, the album title can be taken quite literally… the feelings associated with any relationship (Emotions), and the countdown associated with being reunited (And Math). This idea is explored more in the eponymous track from the album, with Glaspy contemplating her feelings during a period of separation: “Counting all the days till you’re back / Shivering in an ice cold bath / Of emotions and math.”

Tracks like “Memory Street” explore almost identical notions, but with a darker perspective that is characterized by disjointed chords and throaty growls.

“Memory Street” is by far the most classically rock-style track from the album in its exploration of lyrics and composition. Less focused on melody, Glaspy cooes, “The record skips, but I let it play.” But, during the next chorus, she repeats, over five times, “I try to remember all the times I / Times I / Times I…” in a style that emulates a skipping record.

This deviation from standard composition (something I value in her artistic endeavors) was not as appreciated by the audience at Hardly Strictly; there were more than a few iterations of “What the hell.”

That is, of course, unless their commentary was referring to Glaspy’s incredible performance, most notable for her simultaneous intensity and aloofness.

In which case, I would have to agree: What the hell (was that astounding performance).
Written by: Ally Overbay – arts@theaggie.org


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