Annie Lou,
Grandma's Rules for Drinking
(independent, 2012)

On first hearing, Grandma's Rules for Drinking so little impressed me that, a few weeks later when I stumbled upon the disc while looking for something else, I had all but forgotten about it. Some nagging curiosity directed me to give it another chance. A wise decision, it turns out.

I can have missed its peculiar charms, I think, only because I wasn't paying much attention the first time. Plenty of recorded music finds its way to my doorstep, and like most reviewers I've grown cynical enough to expect to be overwhelmed almost at once, or why bother investigating further? The British Columbia-based Annie Lou -- Anne Louise Genest in her daily life -- is the musical equivalent of the unassuming, soft-spoken stranger whom you casually overlook in a social gathering until at some point, as you begin to heed what she's saying, you realize she is smart and funny and worth sidling up to for more.

Annie Lou is a guitarist and banjo player in an old-timey vein, with a sensibility vaguely reminiscent of that associated with fellow Canadian artists Anna and (the late) Kate McGarrigle. Like theirs, her original songs lean toward the eccentric. Recorded in Toronto with other players from the North Country's stringband scene, Annie Lou composes simple, appealing melodies or borrows them from tradition. In either case the results may not smack you on the head, but they will please your ear and cheer your spirit.

With 11 cuts clocking in at a mere 31 minutes, none manages to surpass 3:23, remarkable in an era of songwriting excess. Two songs address the joy ("Cluny is So Tall!") or aggravation ("Take Your Leg Off Mine") of having a boyfriend whose height, stretched out vertically or horizontally, is greater than one's own. "The Plaid Parade" complains about snooty schoolmates. In the cut that moved me the most the earliest, Annie Lou delivers the tuneful lesson of "Don't You Know, Boy" to remind the listener how love works: you don't expect it, you've given up on it, and then there it is. The two concluding numbers, "Winter Song" and "Days Gone By," are the most straightforward, with the sweet melancholy of old folk songs.

All done to charming guitar/banjo/fiddle arrangements, too. And don't get the wrong impression. Nothing here feels cute or precious. To the contrary, it's witty, and it's likable, and you'll carry the songs with you even when they're playing on no other music delivery system than your own memory.

music review by
Jerome Clark

6 April 2013

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