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Max Hatt and Edda Glass bring evocative songs to the Muddy Creek Music Hall

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by John Adamian

@johnradamian

Some music works best when it achieves an almost physical force, pounding you in the chest and obliterating all other sound.

Other types of music grow more potent by luring a listener in, inducing close attention and deep listening. Max Hatt and Edda Glass make music that creates a sense of vastness within its quiet. Hatt, a guitarist and composer, and Glass, a lyricist and vocalist, play The Muddy Creek Music Hall in Winston-Salem on July 8. The small venue, known for its attentive audiences, will be an ideal space to hear this duo perform.

Their songs generally start as jazzy solo guitar compositions from Hatt that then get lyrics from Glass. The tunes are infused with touches of bossa nova, folk, jazz and cabaret. The pair have had a curious journey, from the vast remote Northwest landscape of Montana to high profile appearances in New York City, working with Pat Sansone of Wilco and the Autumn Defense, who produced their record Ocean of Birds, released in May, and to strings of recent dates up and down the East Coast. Hatt and Glass now live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they’re plugged into the bossa nova scene there, playing in another group that specializes in Brazilian jazz. But their original music, which takes them out on the road now, is different. One can hear the result of years of accumulated artistry and intelligence built up and applied with a confident and gentle touch.

I spoke with Hatt and Glass by phone last week as they prepared for a number of shows, starting in Nashville, passing through North Carolina and heading up to Brooklyn before heading back to the Southwest. One of the first things that jumps out at a listener about Hatt and Glass’s music is its hushed sophistication, in terms of the surprising harmonic movement of the compositions, Hatt’s skilled playing, the poetic density of Glass’s lyrics, and the expressive breadth of her singing.

On the record, which was recorded in at Echo Mountain Recording Studio in Asheville, Glass’s voice sounds close, breathy and husky at times, airy and soaring at others, with the subtle interplay of teeth, lips and chest — the individual physical stamp that makes each voice unique — all suggesting themselves in the richness of the recording. She can bring to mind Billie Holiday, Karen Dalton, Gal Costa or K.D. Lang, depending on the prism you might be listening through.

But the bossa nova connection is clear, more in the whispery dynamics of the vocals than in the aesthetics of guitar parts transposed from samba drumming patterns, though Hatt’s gentle syncopations, skeletal arpeggiations and colorful chording brushes in a richly varied landscape behind Glass’s singing.

“We’re kind of minimalistic in concept,” says Hatt. “We try to create a lot of space for the lyrics and Edda’s voice.”

And that voice operates best within those dynamics.

“It’s meant to be very intimate and very much as it would sound as if I was singing into your ear,” says Glass.

Producer Sansone was one of the judges in the NewSong contest, which Hatt and Glass won, giving them the chance to make their record. The result, which includes tasteful backing from drums and upright bass, showcases the feathery touch and the sung-into-yourear element of the duo’s approach.

There’s a contrast to be made between the delicacy of some of the sounds and the ways that the lyrics and the music conjure elements of the stark and forbidding landscape of Montana — from Great Plains to Rocky Mountains.

“All these songs were inspired by Montana landscapes,” says Hatt. “We really try to deal with a sense of place.”

Glass echoes that sense of having the songs rooted in a landscape. The lyrics hint at powerful forces pulling people, whether it’s love, history or space that’s exerting a tug. And Glass’s words have a narrative heft to them, telling stories that seem to have an arc that’s slightly larger than what one expects from a song.

“I’ve spent a lot of time writing fiction and reading fiction, so there are a lot of influences from authors,” says Glass.

Hatt’s music inspired the stories contained in the songs, with the help of those long lonely drives to gigs in Montana, but Glass says she sometimes thinks she might like to write longer prose pieces based on the material. In this way, one of Hatt’s brooding melancholic guitar instrumentals could inspire a whole story with characters, tension, dialogue and a particular setting, whether it be a frozen lake by a railroad stop, like on the lovely “Crossing Over,” or the more mysterious and vaguely futuristic and noirish “No More Tattoos.”

“Montana’s a good metaphor for all that stuff,” she says. “The pioneers, people running away from things, the displacement and suffering of the Native people — there’s all this longing and vulnerability in Montana. It’s a serious landscape. It will get you.”

Hatt adds: “And it’s majestic. It can make you feel like a little ant.”

Beauty can be humbling, that seems to be part of the point. But balancing that jolt of significance without getting bogged down in brainwork and the mechanisms of analysis is part of the trick that Hatt and Glass are trying to pull off.

“Sometimes we talk about how this is sort of an experiment,” says Hatt. “We want to make music that resonates with people without their having to think about it.” !

JOHN ADAMIAN lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.

WANNA go?

Max Hatt and Edda Glass perform at The Muddy Creek Music Hall, 5455 Bethania Road, Winston- Salem, 336-923-8623, muddycreekcafeandmusichall.com.

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