Singer-songwriter Annie Gallup. Photo by Annie Gallup

Listening to Annie Gallup’s “Bookish” album, released in the fall, is an exercise in quiet meditation. Words are stitched together with delicate, thoughtful precision. Each track is an elegy adorned only with guitar and Gallup’s calming voice that manages to hold a galaxy of emotion in each note.

“Bookish” has been out since September, and after hearing a couple people recommend it, I decided I needed to give it a listen, which happened over the past few weeks at my desk, in my car and out on walks. Did it take this long to find my way to “Bookish” because I’ve been too busy, or was it a case of needing to be truly ready to hear these songs? After all, these are not songs to run to, clean your house to or have on at a cocktail party. These songs are meant to be savored like imported chocolates or aged Scotch, and they are meant to he heard without distractions.

The “Bookish” songs are fused to my rib cage and I inhale them as much as listen to them. Take the opening track, “The Roads Were Deserted,” as one example. “I’d packed some sandwiches and lemonade/And apples I quartered then tied back together/Once we’d crossed the river it was all fields and pastures/Our talking slowed as he drove faster.” And here’s a few lines from “The Trouble With the Truth:” “I walked into town, bought a box of paints/These are the colors I am thinking of/This one for criminals. This one for saints/That’s all I want to say about love.”

Do you ever look at a painting and experience that overwhelming feeling of not knowing how to process its beauty? Do you ever walk out of a film feeling so moved you want to do everything you can to hold onto that feeling as long as you can before being sucked back into the vortex of your everyday life? That’s what “Bookish” is like. Gallup, who lives in Rockland, is a poet, sage, philosopher and astute observer. These attributes are all laid bare on the album.

The 12 “Bookish” tracks were written and recorded between December of 2018 and last spring in a studio in the home Gallup shares with her husband and fellow musician, Peter Gallway. Every song is just Gallup singing and playing her ’90s model Gibson Bluehawk electric guitar. Gallup explained the album’s name. “It seemed to describe both my introverted self and the word-centric-ness of the collection. Plus, when I thought of it, it made me laugh.” The album’s cover, designed by Gallup, features a dozen colorful old books opened and laid flat.

“Bookish” album cover. Design by Annie Gallup

Gallup is originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She and Gallway moved to the midcoast in 2018 after living in California for several years. Prior to their cross-country move, they’d been living in Ojai. In December 2017, the Thomas Fire surrounded the town in a way that Gallup said was “apocalyptic” and “unsurvivable.” The town, including their home, was saved, but the couple had already set in motion a plan to move to the coast of Maine. Gallup said their Rockland neighborhood is colorful and charming, and everything they need is within walking distance. She described the winters as not so bad and the summers as breathtaking. “The change of seasons are a great adventure, after many years in southern California. I miss the Ojai farmer’s market with fresh avocados and dates and vegetables year-round. But Maine is mythically beautiful, and I’m thrilled to be here,” she said.

When I asked Gallup if the experience of living in Maine made its way into any of the “Bookish” songs, she said that “everything is influenced by everything.” “I would have written a very different album in California, but it’s hard to quantify how. But yes, I had the landscape of Maine in mind when I wrote ‘Roads” and also ‘Fellow Traveler.’” Gallup also said that “East Tenth Street” was inspired by a gallery exhibit she saw in Maine, and the track “California” is about relocating to the relative peaceful quiet of this town.

Gallup said her songwriting process has shifted. She’s more interested now in writing as a way of exploring what she needs to say rather than writing something intentional. “I like being surprised and revealed by a song. I like the songs that come out of nowhere and mean everything.” In that vein, she mentioned the songs “Pseudonym” and “My Father Loves Poetry.”

Gallup grew up listening to country blues and is a big fan of Mississippi John Hurt. “The guitar parts were so subtle and so difficult and I just had to learn them note for note.” Gallup also became a fan of Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon as a teenager and still listens to them. An acute level of shyness resulted in her spending many years playing, singing and writing secretly in her room. But there was a plus side to this; it gave Gallup the freedom to explore and find her own way. She was given a guitar for her 10th birthday and said that by the time she learned her first three chords, she was making up songs. “It didn’t occur to me to not write songs for myself to sing.” Gallup described her parents as do-it-yourselfers, and this instilled in her a sense of “if you want something, you make it yourself.” Gallup also said that growing up, she had no interest in TV and popular culture, so she had very little context for “normal” songwriting. “I got to reinvent the form for myself.”

Although Gallup said she doesn’t recall specifically choosing to pursue a career in music, she said some doors were opened and she walked through them. “Then more doors opened and now it’s all these years later and I have a dozen CDs and eight more with Peter as Hat Check Girl (roots/folk duo) … If you do something long enough, it becomes the story of your life.”

Gallup is also living with chronic Lyme disease. She was bitten by a tick in 1996 while living in North Carolina, and it took several years and several doctors to get the correct diagnosis. Gallup said hers is a “classic Lyme story of having increasingly disabling symptoms but slipping through the cracks of a health care system that didn’t know how to identify and treat Lyme.” By the time she was diagnosed and started treatment, Gallup said the bacteria had a long head start and had caused a lot of damage.

“Living with Lyme is isolating and limiting. It isn’t something I have a choice about. The smallest thing – scents, sounds, lights, stressors of any kind – can throw me off the rails and I will be unable to function on the most basic level,” she said. Lyme manifests itself in Gallup by stripping her of resilience and causing her a tremendous amount of pain. “I can’t trust that I’ll be able to do anything on a given day.” Music, however, does offer some solace. “Being able to work here at home in Peter’s recording studio on my own schedule is such an incredible gift,” said Gallup. Lyme prevents Gallup from playing shows, but thankfully, it doesn’t keep her from sharing her gift of music with the world.

“Sending songs out as a way to interact with the world, since I can’t get out myself, makes this CD all the more significant to me,” she said. Gallup also said she derives huge joy from her two rescued Bichon-mix pups, Gracie and Maggie.

“Bookish” is available at the four Portland-area Bull Moose locations and on the Bull Moose website, as well as at CDBaby.com and on Gallup’s website. A few of Gallup’s favorite songs on the album are “The Roads Were Deserted,” “Sputnik,” “Misunderstood,” “My Father Loves Poetry” and “Pseudonym.” The reason she chose them is simple, and yet it speaks volumes about Gallup’s singular propensity for song-crafting. “They came out of nowhere and said exactly what I needed to say.”

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