Margaret Glaspy | MOTH Club | 23 August 2016
You can tell a lot about a musician from the songs they choose to cover: their likes, their influences, and – based on the degree they reimagine another person’s work – their sense of self.
For her sold-out London debut, Margaret Glaspy couldn’t have made three better picks. A diverse selection highlighting the singer-songwriter’s impeccable taste, she makes each her own: Lucinda Williams’ keening country ballad ‘Fruits Of My Labor’ now sounds raw and real; Björk’s ‘Who Is It?’ swaps bright drum ‘n bass for desperation and a ragged guitar solo; and, performed solo, Lauryn Hill’s R&B slowjam ‘Ex Factor’ becomes a stark, bluesy torch song.
Much of the transformation is down to the pairing of Glaspy’s idiosyncratic vocals – sometimes a ragged growl, sometimes an airy falsetto – with her brittle guitar sound. And that interplay is part of what makes her own songs so powerful. So do the sparse arrangements – she’s accompanied by just a drummer and bassist – and the precision of her unflinching lyrics.
On ‘Emotions and Math’, the title track of her debut album, she confesses “I’m a woman acting like a kid” over a grungy riff. The conflicted ‘Pins and Needles’ has her sounding both sweetly submissive (“Swallow my suggestions/ Not ask too many questions”) and angrily confrontational (“I don’t wanna watch my mouth”) as her guitar growls and the drummer pounds out a basic beat. The fragile rendition of the understated ‘Parental Guidance’ contrasts the music’s minor chords and the barbed sentiment (“And you’re swell/ Just as God made you/ But we could brace your teeth/ And change a thing or two”).
And those are just the first three performances of an hour-long set that leaves the audience hushed during songs and rapturous between. The most ecstatic response is reserved for the gritty pop gem ‘No Matter Who’ with its soaring climax, and the exquisite ‘Memory Street’ that uses repetition as a callback to the lyric “The record skips but I let it play”. A masterclass in reminiscence, it’s just another indication that Glaspy’s one-in-a-million voice is here to stay.
- Margaret Glaspy plays The Village Underground on 9 November 2016.