ANNIE GALLUP – Ghost (Gallway Bay Music GBM108)

GhostAs well as having being one half of Hat Check Girl for the past five years, the Ann Arbor born singer-songwriter has an extensive solo career to her name, dating back to her debut release in 1994. This is her tenth solo album and, along with musical partner (and now husband) Pete Gallway on hand as ever, although this time only on string bass, it features Paul Simon’s go-to fiddler Gabe Witcher and David West on dobro and mandolin.

Maintaining the “quiet conversations” of 2012’s Little Five Points, it’s a gentle, reflective collection of hushed folk songs wrapped around tales of relationships, of love and loss, at least two of which specifically seem to call on her own family background, first up being ‘Diamond Ring’, a fiddle led number about her mother’s ring, serving as a symbol of the women herself and prompting Gallup to question the gulf between what’s remembered and what was. Indeed, the album title and the sleeve image of the ladder to an open attic, underlines the nature of memories and things hidden away that permeates several of the tracks.

The late Jack Hardy, a Greenwich Village folkie and playwright, is the inspiration behind the elegy and memories of the mandolin backed ‘Ghost Town Kite’, it’s rural tone spilling over into ‘West Memphis, Arkansas’ where she sings of there being four ways out of the dead-end town, the road, the rail, the river and, so the lyrics suggest, motherhood. Geographical location underpins the next track too, ‘The Battle of Brooklyn’, an uncluttered telling of the Revolutionary War battle as the redcoats marched on the town’s outnumbered rebel defenders.

If Hardy has inspired one track, banjo wizard Danny Barnes actually gets a song named after him as Gallup recalls seeing him in concert for the first time, wisely opting to keep the track’s own banjo work understated. Then it’s back to matters of the heart with ‘A Loves B’, a tenderly played bittersweet story of a true love, but one in which he hides a secret life, sleeping around and playing away from home while the singer is torn between loyalty to them both as she wonders “which of them do I betray?

The first of the album’s two covers comes with a bluesy take on Utah Phillips’ ‘Rock Salt And Nails’ featuring West on Dobro, reprising an association with the song from when he toured with the late Kate Wolf in the 80s. The second non-original closes the album, a version of Dougie MacLean’s much covered ‘Caledonia’, Gallup’s delivery evoking a poignancy I thought had long been squeezed out by overfamiliarity.

Between the two are the three remaining self-penned numbers, ‘The Weapon Of Choice’, another family-related song which, accompanied by Witcher’s forlorn fiddle, talks of receiving a telephone call from her mother (about her father’s death, perhaps) that “made a hole in my heart”.

The only vaguely uptempo number here, ‘Unravel’ is a burbling banjo, swamp and Appalachia hybrid blues written in the wake of tending to someone with a serious illness (“it’s only hair, he said, and I said it will grow back”) and how it made her want to cling to every moment, before returning to family once more for ‘Raised By Wolves’, a fiddle scraping, waltzingly playful portrait of what, if are to believe the lyrics (“My mother found fault with my father, my grandparents slept in twin beds… my brother could jimmy the lock…my step sister bullied the cops”), was a seriously dysfunctional, but decidedly interesting family where the narrator “would hide under my quilt with a flashlight, write poetry over their heads”. Regardless of whether it’s Gallup’s family or not, she is, after all, a storyteller, it’s a terrific song on an album that, like its title, offers a haunting listen.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘West Memphis Arkansas’ – official video: