A very lucky but small group of folks gathered in Maryland on a Tuesday night were blessed with a much-needed glimpse of a ray of hope for the future. In this time of cynicism, ugly talk and worry it was replenishing to witness young Margaret Glaspy in action at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis. There are a ton of really good singer-songwriters out there but, I’m telling you, this one stands apart. This from a music fan who has caught many, many shows beginning when I saw Louis Armstrong and Connie Francis in Berlin in 1962 (I was 12, do the math).
Number one — the voice. Incredible power, range and inflection. It serves her well from whispered lines to whopping belts. Not just voice but what she is smart enough to do with it. Most of the songs Glaspy performed were her own compositions but four covers afforded the audience with a chance for favorable comparison with some great musicians. “Ex-Factor” by Lauryn Hill made me want to revisit that classic album. You gotta have some chutzpah to tackle a classic Etta James reading of “I’d Rather Go Blind,” but Glaspy did and she made her own without making you pine for the original. Ditto with Lucinda Williams’ “Fruits of My Labor.” I was quite familiar with Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” but I was never that impressed with it as a song — kind of an easy throwaway. That was until I heard Glaspy do it. Now I consider it a wonderful song.
Number two — the musicianship. Glaspy accompanies herself with one electric guitar masterfully. In addition to well-worked out and varied chord work to punctuate her vocals, she has worked up some great leads that don’t come across as show-offy and seem just right to compliment the song. Her bassist and drummer fill out the sound with extreme competence. And don’t get the idea that the overall performance is subdued and folky. These guys rock. That the musicianship is so strong was not really a great surprise to me because I knew Glaspy has attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, the same institution that gave us another of my favorites, Julianna Hatfield. I don’t want to knock Julianna at all but even she’d have to admit Glaspy has a superior vocal instrument (to be fair that’s not Juliana’s thing).
Number three — the songs. I gotta say in all my experience the songwriter half is the part where many singer-songwriters fall short. It’s de rigueur these days to write your own stuff, at least a good chunk of it. But all great singer/performers are not Lennon/McCartney or Dylan. What if Sinatra or Aretha had only sung their own songs? The songs on Glaspy’s lone album and one EP, however, are indeed, catchy, tuneful, intelligent and delightful. She began her set with the title cut of her album “Emotions and Math” which immediately grabbed the full attention of the crowd. From there she went on to play many of the cuts from the album and from the EP, “If and When”. The audience responded to them all, especially a “duet with herself, “You and I” and the lament about a lousy boyfriend, “Anthony.”
So with Margaret Glaspy you get the rare trifecta of talent, plus good taste in music. On top of it she seems like a very nice person. If there’s any justice in music, and that is a huge if, she will become a major force in music for the coming decades. If you haven’t done so already, check her out.