Soon, the annual year-end parade of best-of lists will be everywhere. Of those ranking 2016’s best albums, many are sure to have Margaret Glaspy’s “Emotions and Math,” released in June, in their top picks - and with good reason.
The California-bred, New York-based singer/songwriter went through a few different self-produced versions of her full-length debut before landing a deal with ATO Records and recording it in a proper studio.
In defiance of broad-stroke categorization, the album fluidly moves through a nicely sequenced collection of songs that include everything from bar-room ramblers and bluesy ballads to straight-up pop tunes and chunky, rock grinders.
At the Soda Bar in City Heights on Tuesday night, Glaspy, along with bassist Chris Morrissey and drummer Tim Kuhl, showcased them all.
During their second-ever show in San Diego, the East Coast trio held the small venue on El Cajon Boulevard in (near) rapt attention for the entirety of their 70-minute set. And for a room that logistically lends itself to during-performance chatter, there was very little to be heard.
From the moment Glaspy and her band kicked things off with “Emotions and Math’s” title track, it was hard to look away.
Although Glaspy wrote the songs so she could play them alone, they flourish with the addition of Morrissey and Kuhl. It’s easy to imagine the up-tempo lament of “Pins and Needles” or the slinking swoon of “Love Like This” being played by just Glaspy and her acoustic guitar, but the dimension of the trio elevates all of these songs to a completely different level.
And it certainly does nothing to detract from the multiinstrumentalist and singer. Her voice, also difficult to categorize, is perpetually engaging, whether gliding over lilting lyrics or growling, warbling and snarling to punctuate a point. Watching Glaspy jamming with Morrissey in the middle of the stage while bouncing up and down in mini-crunches playing her guitar, standing tippy-toe during certain moments of delicate phrasing, or pausing just a moment to realign herself after a song that may have brought back too many memories - it’s obvious that this is an artist emotionally invested in these songs.
Midset, Morrissey and Kuhl took a break and Glaspy informed the enthusiastic crowd that she was going to perform a new song she had been “workshopping.” It didn’t have a title, but it was a showstopper. Glasby followed that with a haunting version of “You’re Smiling (But I Don’t believe You)” from her 2013 EP “If & When” and a bare-bones cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” - the former prompting near-silence from the crowd, and the latter inducing a sing-along from a collection of strong-voiced fans.
By the time Morrissey and Kuhl returned, the crowd knew they were in the home stretch and were going to get the punky rave-up of brash album single, “You and I.” And much to their delight, they did.
But Glaspy closed the set alone, performing a take on the quiet confessional, “Somebody To Anybody.” The two songs are in direct opposition to one another, both in tone and execution. But it’s that juxtaposition of confidence and vulnerability in both her songs and performances that makes Glaspy so engaging.
“I put my heart and soul into this record,” she told DiscoverSD shortly before taking the stage at Soda Bar. “And I’m figuring this all out in real time. But I’ll always make music. I’ve just been doing it for so long. But sometimes it does get confusing. You start to get attention for something and start thinking you have to change your whole plan. But I think I’m going to stay the course and just keep doing what I’ve been doing forever. I just hope to follow my nose and make something that’s honest.”
Should be no problems there. And if the rest of Glaspy’s performances are anything like the one she delivered on Tuesday night, they should be right there with her album on all of those best-of lists.
Scott McDonald is a writer, on-air personality and consultant with 15 years of experience in the San Diego music scene. He has interviewed hundreds of artists, from the legendary to the underground, for print and television. Follow McDonald and his melodic musings on Twitter @eight24_ or Instagram @scotteight24. Send your music musts to email@example.com.