The swift and simple “No Great Pretender” is an object lesson in the power of a good hook, while also an object lesson in the mysteries of what comprises a hook in the first place. The hook in question is found in the interval leaping, first up then down, that launches the chorus, with the lyric “But you caught me red-handed.”
The first leap is made between the words “you” and “caught,” and it’s a sixth interval—a relatively large space between two notes in a melody, so you notice it, but by itself not really a hook. See what happens next, however: Abshire plunges back down, this time making it a two-part interval, splitting the word “red-handed” into two different notes. There’s music theory stuff going on here that I can’t quite get my arms around but the notable thing (pun intended) is that she lands, on “handed,” a whole note below where she started; from end to end here we’ve got a major seventh interval, which melodically has deep, intrinsic appeal. Not a lot of songs sketch this interval out. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” does, but gets there with a transition at the top of the interval. Here, Abshire gets us there at the bottom. The hook is at once subtle and powerful.
So here’s a young singer/songwriter with some serious songwriting chops. Check out when she returns to the chorus after the bridge, at 2:07, and what does she do but eliminate the hook this time entirely: first skipping the “red-handed” part and then altering the melody on the “never surrender” part. It’s a tease, and of course sets up one last return before the song wraps up, not even three minutes old.
All of this talk is to take nothing away from her voice, which is strong and sweet and true. I discussed this last time she was here, in April 2009. She was 17 at that point, with one record under her belt, but a number of years of experience already singing around Austin. “No Great Pretender” is a track from her second album, the appropriately titled Still So New, due out in August. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.