Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hat Check Girl - Tenderness


Some of my readers mat be familiar with the music of either Annie Gallup or Peter Gallway. Hat Check Girl is a collaboration between the two, but it is also a departure from what either has done before. Yes, Gallup brings her breathy spoken vocals to some songs, and it works beautifully, And yes, Gallway brings some soulful vocals and bluesy hooks in places, and that also works well. But the first thing to know is that this is an electric album. The liner notes assure me that there are acoustic instruments here, even a mandolin, but the mix blends it all and creates electrified textures. The effect is something like the solo work of either Daniel Lanois or Robbie Robertson. Gallup and Gallway between them play six different kinds of guitars, and these guitars sing or hum along with the vocals, or they play intricate rhythmic patterns. Drums are sometimes programmed, sometimes real, and there is bass, and washes of sound from the keyboards. Music this finely crafted can sometimes sound emotionless, but the effect here is intimate, and filled with simmering passion. Tenderness is an excellent title for this album.

The song Tenderness gets things started. Gallway’s vocal sounds like a pledge of love, but there are two spoken interludes by Gallup which involve cases of mistaken identity; each time, someone has a chance meeting with a person who is not their lover. This gives the love Gallway sings about a tentative quality, and gives the song a wonderful dramatic tension. In See You Raise You, Gallup uses the bidding in poker as a metaphor for two people comparing their former lovers. This goes from being something uncomfortable, to something they do while sharing tidbits from the Sunday paper. So we are in the presence of two very fine songwriters here. The writing is all the more powerful for its subtlety, and the musical settings only enhance the effect. The subject is usually relationships, and there seems to be a progression over the course of the album from tentative to more secure. World at Night, coming almost at the end of the album, sounds like an affirmation, but the relationship is still new enough that the song also expresses a sense of wonder.

Having said all that, the songs I have chosen for posting break from this theme. Top Hat is one of Annie Gallup’s spoken songs, this one in a wondering whisper. Top Hat is the story of a remarkable dog. It’s a kind of a fairy tale, and it’s also a love story in a very odd sense. I don’t want to give away much of the plot, but this one really makes me smile, even though I’m not a dog person myself. Casey’s Nervous Corner is one of those songs that will inspire different interpretations from different listeners. That will happen to some extent with many of the songs here, and it’s a sign of good songwriting. I take Casey’s Nervous Corner to be a bar with a live band. Decisions must be made that can not be undone, as closing time approaches. This is all given a musical setting that features the most infectious beat on the album.

As I listen to this album, I can not help thinking that Gallup and Galway are in a relationship that grew as this album was being made. The album has that much of an intimate feeling to it. If this is the case, their future work together should reflect a deepening of that relationship. This should also free them up to be even more adventurous musically. I can’t wait to find out what that will sound like.

Hat Check Girl: Top Hat

Hat Check Girl: Casey‘s Nervous Corner