Friday, September 12, 2008

Spotlight On: Gillian Grassie

Gillian Grassie writes catchy, intellectually-stimulating pop and folk-rock songs. She sounds like a classically-trained opera singer trying her hand at jazz—and succeeding. She plays the harp.

Yes, you read all of that correctly.

The Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter/harpist (ahem) has two self-released records, both of which benefit from the substantial talents of producer/multi-instrumentalist Tim Sonnefeld. But Gillian is always the star of the show. She makes her harp sound at times like a piano and at other times like a guitar, but her playing is so naturally graceful that these auditory metamorphoses never sound forced. Her lucid voice is capable of conveying a wide range of emotions without ever losing its character.

Here is the breakdown of her two releases:

To An Unwitting Muse (EP, 2005): There are some moments when the songwriting could use a little tweaking or when Gillian’s vocals get a tad overdramatic. But overall, this is an impressive debut, especially when one considers that Gillian was barely 19 years old when it was released. The delightfully Celtic “Steps” is an exemplary piece of contemporary folk-rock songwriting, while “Oceans” includes the startling confession, “Women are like oceans, as whimsical as tides/They swell up with emotions and then forever change their minds.” The wonderful “Mr. Houdini” stands in a class all its own as the only harp-driven, psychedelic pop-jazz song ever to contain the word “erotomaniac.” At least I think it’s the only one....

Serpentine (full-length album, 2007): This album reveals itself in new ways with each listen, and clocking in at 37 minutes, it avoids the two-headed evil of being either too short or too long. “No Answer” kicks off the album in high style, Gillian opening with some echoed harp and an Erin McKeown-styled vocal before the track evolves into a distinctive slice of Triple-A heaven. “No answer is an answer; it’s just not the one you were waiting for.” “Pulse” exemplifies the principle of beautiful dissonance, whereas “Silken String” isn’t dissonant—just beautiful. The chilling “Tamlin” references classic folklore and literature, but you needn’t understand the allusions to be emotionally devastated by this heartbreaking masterpiece. The album closes with the pensive lullaby “The Train,” one of Gillian’s most haunting compositions. Not everything is wonderful; the graphic, stream-of-consciousness lyrics of “Tell Me” are not for the squeamish, and though the politically-charged “Sweet Metallic” has noble intentions, it could stand to be more focused both lyrically and sonically. But I hate to complain about such a likable album. After all, choosing the “worst song” on Serpentine makes as much sense as picking out the “fattest woman” in a room full of Victoria’s Secret models.

For music and more information:

Copyright © 2008 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. The fattest woman in a room full of Victoria's Secret models. People told me that line was insensitive and I didn't understand why or how until recently. In truth, I simply thought the line was funny, and the wording was intended to make fun of Victoria's Secret models (tall and skinny can be attractive, but VS models don't even look like human beings to me). People found the line in poor taste and thought I was trying to make fun of plus-sized women, the worst part of this being that when I wrote this review, I had recently confronted an insult comic who'd tried to pass off a vicious rant about "fat women" as humor. After staunchly standing by my "fattest woman" line, a series of events led me to realize I shouldn't have included it, or I should have worded it differently. I'm sorry.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.