Americanna/Ameripolitan

5. Lost and Found: Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue Part Five: I Might Not Be Back This Way Again By John M. Davis

In this final blog post we conclude our revue of Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue‘s new album Lost and Found by discussing the songs How Could It Be and Wayward Wind.

How Could It Be and Wayward Wind

The last blog post ended with the conclusion that we never quite know if Gal will find her soul mate and this lack of certainty is never more obvious than in the two songs How Could It Be and Wayward Wind, that demonstrate the unpredictability and flightiness of Gal Holiday.  The songs smoulder with the potential that Gal finds a deeper, long term love affair. And yet, Niemann lets you know that Gal could be just as happy to float away on the next available wind than to tie herself to a howling hound.

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How Could It Be sets the listener up to think of wanton passion, sleepless nights and a woman that wants to be held tight:

I can’t sleep but I’m so tired.

Loving you has got me wired.

N’ I’m not sure how this works out.

I’m full of doubt.

I wished you’d stayed last night.

I needed you to hold me tight.

Is it I’ve misunderstood…

Is it just a fantasy?

Every time we say good bye,

Tears, fill my eyes,

I know that you feel it too,

Baby you just feel so good, 

How could it be?

How Could it Be is a plaintive plea, from a regretful lass, who seeks to garner a fruitful union at last; but knows it is difficult to sprout new shoots in bare wintered grass that’s been walked all over.   The song places Gal Holiday in a predicament where she is stuck between two worlds, looking for confirmation that her instincts, her feeling of connection with a specific person will be reciprocated.

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How Could It Be’s bass beat winks at the listener, each pluck exhuming feelings that the album’s morality songs had taken prisoner. This tune illustrates Niemann’s ability to create hiraethly spells and distil fantasy positions with the best of them.  How Could It Be’s evocative sensuality, reminds you of the song Feeling Called Love on Pulp’s Different Class album.   Feeling Called Love specifically portrays the confusion of a love encounter: It doesn’t make no sense, no. It’s not convenient, no. It doesn’t fit my plans, no. It’s something I don’t understand, oh.

How Could It Be, does not have the specificity of Feeling Called Love, which describes the cold room in which the encounter took place and the eroticism of the moment, ‘Right down to the broken handle on the third drawer down of the dressing table’.  But, How Could It Be does smoulders with similar intimate possibilities and anxious anticipation.  In this way, it exposes Gal Holiday’s personal feelings, invites both male and female listeners to appropriately fall in love with Gal and enables listeners to empathetically form a relationship with Niemann’s creation.

How Could It Be leaves us, once again, searching for answers as to what happened in the end.  The fact that Treat You Better comes after How Could It Be suggests that Gal’s feelings for this arms distance person may have been reciprocated, but, she may also have blown the only chance she had to find that out and take the relationship to the next stage.   But these suggestions are simply conjecture and it is probably impolite to force meanings onto to the thoughtfully crafted song’s in this album.

When singing songs about her aspirations of the heart, Gal Holiday brings out the inner love struck teenager in us all. You just have to read and listen to her National Geographic ‘Where Is Andrew’ interview to see the effect that Gal’s singing can have on listeners:

It’s no secret that I’ve got a serious crush on Gal Holiday and her band, the Honky Tonk Revue. I hear some pretty fabulous music all over the world, but no other singer has stolen my heart quite like Gal (Vanessa Niemann). The band rocks, the music is fresh, and her voice is like butter melting on hot pancakes.  When I discovered that she’d be playing the week I was in town, I was elated, and even more excited for the chance to sit down and chat face to face with the most beautiful woman in New Orleans. As expected, Gal in real life is as smart and snappy as she is up on stage. Andrew Evan’s National Geographic.

It is no exaggeration to say that Niemann is smart and snappy and that her attractive voice is instantly recognizable.  Andrew Evan’s article is just as fun, beautiful and candid as Gal Holiday’s music.  He also shot this you tube video, which is worth a watch, of Gal Holiday performing Big River:

So, lots of people fall in love with Gal, but the love that Gal desires is, always, just out of reach.

The combination of longing, unobtainability and candidness is very effective.  But it is also worth noting that Gal’s independence and anti-patriarchal stance means that not just any suiter will gain her affections.  Whether she is yearning Gal, vulnerable Gal, mature Gal or lost and almost found Gal; you get the feeling that our Gal does not give of herself or her stories unconditionally.

Wayward Wind is the type of catchy song that contemporary audiences love.  It is just one of many songs on the album that could be a hit.   It could also act as an end of show, ‘on the road again’, signature tune. They lyrics of Wayward Wind sum up the impermanence of Gal’s life;

Hang down your head with sorrow,

Cover up your face to fright/cry

I might not be here/see you tomorrow,

I’ll be moving on at first light

I hear the sounds of a hound,

He’s howling like a wayward wind,

Don’t look away too long,

Or I’ll be gone,

I might not be back this way again. ..

In the end, Wayward Wind partially answers our questions about what will happen to GalAnd, the answer demonstrates Niemann’s genius ability to finish on a note that is consistent with all of the albums central themes.

The answer that Wayward Wind’s provides is: that there is no answer.  Life is a continuous search, and so, we have to keep on moving, travelling on our way and wondering if the next album will let us know how Gal gets on.  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.  Niemann is just as likely to move onto different stories and characters for her next album.

gh yellow dressRunning to, or, away from the howls; Niemann lets us know that the earth’s cycle begins the same.  Just as when the spring sun returns to our Celtic homelands and Brighde opens the way for travellers by melting snow in passes hewn and steeped, Niemann invites us to continue on our journey and fly away where ever the winds take Gal Holiday.

Wayward Wind provides Lost and Found with an excellently consistent ending.  There could be no other ending than Gal flying off to a mystery place.  No other ending than Gal hinting that her suiter might just have another opportunity to fall in love with her; if he is quick enough.  And, no other ending than Vanessa keeping us guessing as to whether Gal journeys on on her own, or, with someone kind and good.

Conclusions; It Is OK To Not Know Where Your Going, Half The Time.

Our review has attempted to discern the deeper messages of Lost and Found.  Jocelyn Neal indicates that a singer can never totally control an audiences reactions and in some way this revue of Lost and Found, produced in this series of blog posts, demonstrates that fact.  You don’t need to agree with the analysis in this review to love Gal Holiday’s music. Try Lost and Found, its released next week.  It has so many different aspects to it, something in the album is bound to appeal to you.

Lost and Found provides a lesson for us all that: if you let the wind decide, the inner purpose of your emotions will eventually be realised. And, that your sense of self can find its own healing, when we rediscover the deeper meanings of our inner being.   It encourages us to make a virtue out of our ambiguities, own our own feelings, accept our diverse identities, embrace our contradictions and reveal our imperfections. As such, it stands as a beacon for those who eschew the technical rational dogma of our current times.

Lost and Found beautifully concocts a draught of complicit contradictions, love constraints, incomplete desires, fraught heroes, scattered minds and sins repressed.  The album illuminates all types of carnal and platonic urges: stolen, drunken, dreamlike, lost, re-awoken, errant, deadly, regretful, Zen like, wishful, sorrowful & wayward. And, in the best of Ameripolitan introspective traditions, poses rhetorical questions to the listener.

Some questions that came to my mind were: Do you have the moral fiber to turn some journeys down?  Can you find a pathway less conceited? Are you willing to fight for a unity of purpose in face of a trembling line?  Niemann’s work encourages the listener to welcome new questions and emotions as if they are long lost friends arriving with helpful advice.

Jocelyn Neal differentiates between Auteur singers who create a sustained identity that gradually reveals personal thematic preoccupations over time and Metteur–en-scene singers that can interpret any song but do not have an obvious biography. Vanessa Niemann does not keep a tight control on Gal Holiday’s identities because that does not fit with her Wayward Wind type life style.

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Gal’s performances and songs have, over time, brought out all sorts of identities, including: toughened survivor, woman predator, lonely songstress, hard headed woman, etc. In Lost and found, those identities include, amongst other things: sorceress of swing, punk rock princess, sassy dame, floating dreamer, raucous songstress, sad fiancé, incomplete story teller, giver back of lovers and sultry crooner. This range of identities lets you know that Gal Holiday is complex and that Niemann is a very capable ‘galvaniseur’.

Niemann’s Lost and Found also provides us with a myriad of different stories about illicit sin (‘For one night only folks’), ignominy, closeness, death, ridicule, isolation, and assassination. The second half of the album focusses on songs that illustrate Gal’s experiences of separation, reconciliation, fantasy and growth. In so doing, Niemann returns us to the picture on the front of the CD, where she is depicted as a sort of Charge of the Star Goddess, a soul of nature, who might reveal to us the secret wisdoms of our age and who’s stories encourages us, within ourselves and our ways of being, to exhibit beauty, compassion, honour, humility, power and strength.

The final images of Lost and Found hold out the possibility that Gal might not be journeying on alone.  In so doing, the end of the album seamlessly connects Found Myself Instead, Treat You Better, How Could It Be and Someone Like You’s themes to suggest that Gal might be looking for a sign that will enable her to be all alone with someone else’s arms wrapped tight around her in a way that might help her heal her broken heart.

But, the tone and humour of Wayward Wind also tell us that Gal Holiday has plenty of capacity to free herself from anyone who would seek to limit her world with too tight a hold.  Wayward Wind’s most powerful moment comes with the line: I don’t know where I’m going, half the time, I’m just going like a wayward wind.  The aside, half the time, perfectly sums up Gal’s flighty character and the album as a whole.

Wayward Wind’s most supremely flirtatiousness moment comes with the line: ‘Honey, put your sweet love on me, don’t look away too long or I’ll be gone, I might not be back this way again’.  This final narrative appears to states, in a very feminist and contemporary way: ‘we might have a future together but it will be on my terms’.

As such, Wayward Wind, provides enough of a contrast to the prior songs that it overcomes the potential for Gal Holiday to be portrayed as conventional.  Niemann, thus, avoids turning Gal into an updated Holly Golightly who, at the end of the movie Breakfast At Tiffany’s, rides off in the Taxi with Paul, Cat and the constraints of a traditional relationship.

Lost and Found ends by reinforcing its own hireathly golden thread; that we are always searching for a place that maybe never was.  The final images of the album depict Gal Holiday as readying herself to fly away, her fluttering wings looking for a wind to be set free on; as if the very process of creating the album has been too constraining.

Niemann ensures that the album closes with no errant scenes, no knee-jerk opinions, no lost Cat in the rain; just the gentle lilting sound of her music floating away in the wind.  At the end of Lost and Found Gal is still in charge; any other ending would have left us very disappointed.  Gal’s post-patriarchal identities having no chains, we are left to imagine her in far off lands swinging a set of scales, shiny and clean, by which to measure, the stardust of her suitors’ dreams.  .

You can buy and download your copy of Lost and Found here.

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