Annie Gallup,
(Prime CD, 2001)

I'm not sure what I expected when I popped Annie Gallup's Swerve in the CD player, but what I got certainly wasn't it. It's pretty rare to run across an artist who's truly unclassifiable, but Annie Gallup comes pretty darn close. I've been throwing around genre combinations trying to capture her style ("jazzy folk rock with a twangy edge," "hybrid of folk-rock and spoken word poetry," etc.) but they just don't quite get it. Gallup has been compared to singer-songwriters as diverse as folk-rocker Joni Mitchell, indie great Lou Reed and alt-country legends Lucinda Williams and Townes Van Zandt -- quite a remarkable collection. I can here hints of all of these artists in Gallup's work -- in her voice, which ranges from a warm alto to a throaty growl, in which she does a kind of rhythmic talk-singing, and in her lyric writing, which is rich with word music and telling description, frequently melancholy but never maudlin, and adept at telling stories. But these influences are only suggested, never overt; Gallup's creative impulses seem to have synthesized them with her own vision to create something that feels organic and wholly new.

To be honest, I had a hard time getting used to Gallup's musical style -- particularly her mixture of singing and spoken word. But I was immediately impressed by her lyrics, and as I listened to the disc again, I found myself drawn into the rhythm of her vocals. Each time I've listened to this album I've liked it more. In fact, I'm considering looking up some of Gallup's previous catalogue -- she's released four albums on the Prime CD label: Cause and Effect (1994), Backbone (1996), Courage My Love (1998) and Steady Steady Yes (1999).

Swerve could almost be considered a concept album about the various kinds of disillusionment that follow in the wake of broken relationships; ordinarily, I tend to find such an intense focus on love and loss rather tiresome, but Gallup makes it fresh and compelling. Some of the standout tracks include "Absecon Bay," which begins with the marvelous first lines "You went on the road because you were lost / You thought traveling would be a useful metaphor"; "The Sky," which recounts the course of a short-lived hippie love affair with a man named The Sky ("The Sky got a letter from his mother / She called him Frank / The puppy pissed on a pile of poems and I couldn't call the image back / And I lost my words, they were coming out in threes / Like 'what the hell,' 'I don't care,' 'it's your turn,' 'don't blame me'"), as well as the soft, almost plaintive "Georgia O'Keefe," and the jazzy "Three Bills," a punning tale of misadventure involving, you guessed it, three guys named Bill.

Gallup's quirky artistic vision may not appeal to everyone, but for those who want to try something new, Swerve might be just what they're looking for.

[ by Erin Bush ]
Rambles: 25 June 2001

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