Whenever either Annie Gallup or her Hat Check Girl partner Peter Gallway release a solo album, you can be pretty sure the other will also have one waiting in the wings. So it is that, following on from Gallup's Lucy Remembers Her Father, now comes Gallway's latest, his twentieth, one inspired by and in homage to the 60s R&B sound of New York and, specifically, his late friend and unique voice Laura Nyro. Even more specifically, her album New York Tenderberry.
It opens with the atmospheric, hazy blues love song title cut (featuring Gallup on backing vocals), musically evocative of staring out over the New York cityscape in the early hours, steam rising from sidewalks, part spoken poetry, the lines "you sing to the city and it feels like religion" a particular Nyro tribute. He takes to organ for 'Tonight At The Fair', Jerry Marotta laying down the beat, for a romantic reverie of two lovers stealing a moment together that, also evoking that poignant ghostly father-son encounter in Field of Dreams, chugs along in a manner reminiscent of The Cars with a jazzy makeover.
It gets funkier for 'Longing Lasts Longer', a snaking track that calls both Bruce Cockburn and David Byrne to mind as, in his distinctive wood-grained voice, he sings how "between art and commerce, art's going to lose", the title a reference to a show of the same name by avant garde performance artist Penny Arcade, aka Susana Ventura, a critique of contemporary New York as having gone from the "city that never sleeps" to the "city that can't wake up."
Again with that early hours feel, built around keyboards 'Just Lucky' traces a simple lyric about being lucky in love, albeit laced with a certain ironic edge, then things hit a jazzy swing groove for another vignette of NY romance, 'Shorty Moves On' with its images of "The boys with the hustle and Italian shoes". With a rockier edge, the striding rhythm of 'Women's House of D' is another recollection of a bygone New York, a sketch in song of the infamous correctional facility, the Women's House of Detention (also the subject of Robin Williams' film House of D), the faceless voices of the calling out to the downtown boy narrator as he passes by "curious and scared" on the streets where the pimps hang out, "Too young to know the darkness that will enter my soul."
Featuring fretless bass, 'Dark Matter' has a heady, claustrophobic vibe echoing its iceberg-inspired imagery of alienation and isolation ("Fifteen-percent of me is known to you"), the existential 'Eyes of the Stars' appropriately conjuring night skies with a synth backing that sounds like a cross between sleigh bells and a drone as he wonders "how many times have I lost the girl? How many kindnesses squandered?" the song pivoting on the haunting line "if the phone doesn't ring, you'll know it was me."
Gallup returns on lap steel for the jazzy loose-limbed 'Maria Makes You Wait' about its titular femme fatale before the instantly catchy, tumbling chords of 'Roller Coaster' brings a Springsteen touch to proceedings with its lyrics about memories of a golden summer of youth between graduation and life, hand in hand down on the boardwalk, riding the rollercoaster and down to the beach with "a sea of bodies to eternity. Oil and skin and a hundred radios."
It ends on the ruminative, sparse piano accompanied 'Your House In Order 'a valediction to Nyro ("you took so many chances. Courageous attempts that eclipsed your intentions. And then your sweet sweet son for whom you prepared all your life") that, in a direct reference to her song 'The Confession' (from Eli and the Thirteenth Confession) closes, as does hers, with the heart-swelling benediction "love is gospel." A remarkable album that captures a moment in time, and the soul of both the city and the singer who celebrated its spirit. Get converted.
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