Three albums into her career, Margaret Glaspy is starting to have her moment. While her first two records, Emotions and Math (2016) and Devotion (2020) received strong reviews, her timing with the latter could not have been worse: Devotion was released in March of 2020, and Glaspy was never able to tour behind it due to the pandemic.
With this year’s Echo the Diamond, Margaret has gotten the strongest press of her career and, she recently kicked off a tour behind the album at Union Stage in DC.
I was somewhat surprised to learn Margaret’s first instrument, even before guitar, was fiddle, because there’s no twang in the way she plays. She has a clear, crisp tone to her guitar playing, a straight rock ‘n roll sound with no hints of country. However, in her encore at Union Stage on Sept. 28, she played Lucinda Williams’s “Fruits of My Labor,” so it’s apparent to me that Margaret shares my love for at least some of the great alt-country and Americana that blossomed in the ’90s and aughts. (In a coincidence, I happened to be wearing my Lucinda t-shirt, over which I briefly connected with Margaret after the show.)
Born in 1989, Glaspy is a child of the ’90s. That was clear from her other cover Thursday night, of Alanis Morissette’s “You Learn.” I knew I liked Glaspy when I saw her open for Spoon last year at the 9:30 Club, but I didn’t realize just how squarely she’s in my zone. It’s clear we love a lot of the same things.
For most of the show, Glaspy played trio in a trio formation, with herself on electric guitar accompanied by bass and drums. I was really impressed with her technical skill as both a singer and a guitarist. She didn’t do anything showy, but she’s very talented, and she knows how to use her instrument to make the most of her songs. As a singer, it struck me, when she was covering “You Learn,” that she’s more proficient than Alanis.
If you know something of her background, this technical skill wouldn’t come as a surprise. She briefly attended the prestigious Berklee School of Music on a grant, though she had to leave after a semester for financial reasons. In 2012, she released her first EP, Homeschool, which led to her signing with ATO Records in 2015.
While Margaret’s technical prowess was in evident, it’s perhaps as a lyricist that she shines the most. Her wits are witty and clever, and, several times during her set, I could hear the audience chuckling at a particularly good line. But don’t mistake witty or funny for silly; Glaspy’s songs are serious, and they tend to hit pretty hard, especially the new songs on Echo The Diamond. There’s an element of satire to songs like “Female Brain,” but in the finest traditions of satire — in a lineage that includes Randy Newman — it’s all in the service of making a real point.
At Union Stage, the set started with another song from Echo, “I Didn’t Think So,” with several more tunes from the record in the set: “Act Natural,” “Irish Goodbye,” “Memories,” “Hammer and the Nail,” and “People Who Talk.” Another song from the album, “Turn The Engine,” came in a mini solo set in the middle of show, along with “Heartbreak” and “Somebody to Anybody.”
In addition to the new material, there were plenty of songs from her back catalog for those who’ve been following her for a while: “Memory Street,” “Stay With Me,” “You and I,” “Life Was Better,” “Parental Guidance,” “Emotions and Math,” “Situation,” “One Heart and Two Arms.” “Get Back,” from Echo The Diamond, closed out the main set.
Watch the official music video for “Get Back” by Margaret Glaspy on YouTube:
There wasn’t a lot of banter in the set, although Margaret did talk about running. Recently, she told the audience, she’d run her first ultramarathon, though she had to less than the full of the length of the course, because it came right before she was leaving for a European Tour. There’s a joke in here about what kind of a wimp only runs 29 miles. (I make this joke as someone who takes a daily one hour walk, with a half hour of rest coming in the middle.)
Before Margaret took the stage, Chicago-based singer-songwriter Tasha played a 30-minute opening set. I wasn’t familiar with her work prior to the show, but she’s a talented singer and songwriter, and someone to keep an eye on.
Hopefully, this latest record and this accompanying tour bring Margaret the attention she so richly deserves. Her songs are smart, finely crafted, and catchy, and she has a voice that demands attention. She had the crowd captivated throughout her show, and if you give her a chance, you’ll be captivated, too.