Album: Cowley Road (2008)
Artist: Gayle Skidmore
Where available/price: At live shows for $10; online at iTunes for 99 cents per downloaded song.
Songs: 1) Cheap Imitation 2) Just for Now 3) Still 4) So Beautiful 5) Crazy 6) Cowley Road (live)
Band: Gayle Skidmore (vocals, guitar, piano, banjo, melodica, glockenspiel, bells, toy piano), Aaron Bowen (lap steel, percussion, vocals), Darren Plies (bass), Holly Nigh (violin), Christopher Chelpka (cello), Jake Najor (drums), Nicole Fox (vocals)
Gayle Skidmore sings the blues, although you wouldn’t recognize it as such. Her songs draw narratives about confrontations, using oblique vignettes to tell the stories. In her first song, she sings the melancholy, biting, jilted lines, “I knew better or so I said/ Wrote you a letter I’m glad you never read/ because I was just a cheap imitation of the girl you loved.”
She continues the feeling-down theme in the second song: “We had better leave it broken/ We should just let it be broken.” Paraphrasing countless bluesmen, “She’s a good woman feeling bad.”
The music accompanying these agonized ballads isn’t your traditional Delta or Chicago lineup of guitar, harmonica, and piano; Skidmore pairs quirky (toy piano and banjo) and classical (cello and violin) with satisfying results.
“So Beautiful” and “Crazy” take a lighter turn, and our heroine seems to land a good someone to love. The tunes include the same plucky melodies as the sad songs.
“Cowley Road” is my favorite of the album. She shrugs off the sometimes-stuffy orchestral string section and oddball plucking banjo for the power of her bare voice and one acoustic guitar. When she sings of “unbearable pain,” her ferocious voice quavers with emotion.