“The genre-hopping singer takes on the personal and the political with trademark eloquence”
Sarah Gillespie is now on her fourth album, and as hard to characterise as ever: within a single song she can veer from folk to jazz to blues to Beat to a New Orleans boisterous knockabout to rockabilly and back. Her last album, 2013’s Glory Days, showcased her gift for rhyme (the title track is an ingenious run of half-rhymes) and her twin strong suits of logorrhoea (words tumbling out like Dylan on amphetamines) and languor (“Sugar Sugar” made running up the steps on the Piccadilly line into an erotic reverie). Like its predecessors, Glory Days was produced by Gilad Atzmon, an ideological confrère, whose gravity-defying clarinet punctuated “The Bees And The Seas” with brief moments of crystalline, weightless stasis.
Atzmon is gone for Wishbones — his place is filled, up to a point, by Laura Jurd’s trumpet — but the languor and, to a lesser extent, the logorrhoea are still very much present. The opener, “Russian Interference”, obliquely mocks people who blame their misfortunes on external malevolence, lighter verses with delicate whorls of guitar and piano crashing into belligerent choruses. The half-rhymes are back in force on “Coup d’état” — “easy/Champs-Élysées” — over a walking bassline and splurges of trumpet. “Add your hubris/my hooplas/my hullabaloo . . . ” Kit Downes barrelhouses away on piano.
Politics of the American kind are central. Amid howls of guitar and sombre piano, she sings in the voice of a conflicted oil engineer on the Dakota pipeline on “The Ballad Of Standing Rock”, ending with a Ghost Dancing fantasia. And “The Theft Of Marco Muñoz” commemorates a Honduran father who apparently killed himself last June after being forcibly separated from his wife and child at the Texas border.
But some are more personal. “Susannah Threw A Helicopter” repurposes her daughter’s nursery reports into surreal poetry, charming in the way that songs about children rarely are; “You Win” feels like an intimate dispatch from a Greenwich Village coffeehouse, as does a cover of the traditional ballad “Moonshiner”.
Brexit is present, obliquely, in “The Last Of The Goodtime Charlies”, on which an assortment of London archetypes look backwards and forwards to the past to a demented Dixieland rumble, finding “old explanations/for old complications” — Gillespie stretching and slurring the last word out over nine syllables. Complicated and proud of it.