An old-timey shuffle, all whip and ghost and gallop, rendered yet old-timier by Gibson’s throwback voice and a variety of sounds and effects that conjure a 78 RPM vibe.
But the song moves, and the words spill out, concrete and inscrutable, and we seem to be nowhere as much as in last night’s dream—fresh and spirited and beyond the reach of conscious scrutiny. Maybe it’s the rolling tom-tom beat, which has the air of something at once visceral and hypnotic; we feel both out on a dusty plain and somewhere beyond literal sight. Gibson is singing about “the old sugar mill” and the “bone-white clay” and boots and spurs and burning sage and somehow the more nouns with which she constructs her songscape the less we have to grab onto. It’s a marvelous effect I’ve never been able to figure out whenever encountering songwriters who employ it, and this may be less because it is literally mysterious than figuratively so. That is to say, I could probably stop and puzzle the song out but it really doesn’t seem to want us to. At its best, music enters us through our non-thinking centers, and occasionally we meet songs that remind us, via sidelong glances and echoey absences, that we do not have to understand them.
Gibson is a singer/songwriter from Portland, Oregon. “La Grande” is the title track to her fifth album, due out in January on Barsuk Records. La Grande is also the name of a small town in northeastern Oregon, along I-84, and which for inscrutable reasons seems to have served as an inspiration for the album. MP3 via Spinner.