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Annie GallupAnnie Gallup
Album: Lucy Remembers Her Father
Label: Gallway Bay
Tracks: 12

Over the course of some 20 years, Annie's produced a series of records that, while emphasising the theatrical and poetical aspects of singer-songwriterdom, have nevertheless satisfied immensely on both musical and literary levels and yet have always been pushing the envelope of the genre with surprising and stimulating results. Annie's a natural storyteller, and each of Annie's songs seems to function like a novella, wherein she displays an unbelievable economy of expression - and scale, for half of the songs on this latest collection clock in at less than three minutes and only one of the remainder exceeds four minutes. Opening song Paper is a case in point, where the substance's vulnerability is a metaphor for the singer's emotional and physical state. And in the space of barely one and a half minutes, Understudy provides a telling commentary on the protagonist's relationship with her mother. The quality of intimacy has always been one of Annie's strongest suits, and there's no sense of shortchanging this, whatever the import of any given song.

Annie's powers of vocal expression are undiminished on her latest (I think, eleventh) album, as she conveys the sheer fragility of her characters fully in tandem with their strength and conviction or belief. Even when those characters would appear to have nothing in common with Annie or her own experiences - for instance, Bluebird takes the perspective of an embittered, badly wounded war veteran. On several tracks Annie reverts to the spoken mode, as on the eerie Coyote Highway (with its howling lap-steel backdrop) and Story (a kind of existentialist tale pondering the potential fate of a young boy), while at other times, as on All The Money In The World, her near-spoken rhythmic rap is somewhat reminiscent of the beat poets, or else she reminds me more of the experimental delivery of Laurie Anderson (as on Being Her Child, one of a number of songs here inhabiting the themes of identity and memory - another being the album's title song with its tumbling torrent of eagerly-recalled imagery). It's a bonus too that Annie's lyrics are available on her website for the closer scrutiny they demand and deserve. In which regard, it may then sound contradictory, but another notable feature of Annie's songs is her capacity for creating enthralling and memorable (if quirky) melodies, as on the limpid Strange Boy, the yearning Il Ne M'Aimera Jamais and the mysterious allure of Luminary - all of which weave an enduring, nay indelible spell on the listener's senses.

Annie's modus operandi these days (and for some time now in fact) is to supplement her own voice and guitars with the bass-playing of her Hat Check Girl colleague Peter Gallway; their togetherness is well proven, and enhances the feeling of intense confessional intimacy that Annie brings to her keen meditations on mortality, family, survival and love. For Annie can always be relied upon to produce music that's challenging and highly literate without ever being off-putting or exclusive, and Lucy Remembers Her Father finds her right at the top of her game, producing another real cool, real beautiful and intelligent masterpiece.

David Kidman