I’ve had the chance to review Rumford Point-raised singer/songwriter Rebecca Martin’s music before, both through recordings and in live performance. She’s a fascinating artist who wends her way through the genres of jazz, folk and pop while maintaining an individual and very personal sound.
Her 2010 disc, “When I Was Long Ago,” featured a collection of classic songs that she, bassist Larry Grenadier and saxophonist (and Blue Hill native) Bill McHenry interpreted with remarkable grace and feeling. The just-released “Twain” features just one more of those reimaginings: a sublime take on Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” What we have, otherwise, is pure Martin, and it’s a distinct pleasure to hear.
Grenadier, who’s also married to Martin, is back on this recording. Keyboardist Pete Rende, who also produced, engineered and mixed the disc, and drummer Dan Rieser fill out a few of the intimate arrangements.
“To Up and Go” starts the disc on a mysterious and melancholy note. Like many of Martin’s best songs, it’s open to different levels of interpretation. The pulsing bass of Grenadier and the delicate picking of Martin’s acoustic guitar make this relatively brief tune one that you don’t want to end.
“You’ve come too far to up and go,” the singer gently pleads.
Martin has spent time away from music as a community activist in upstate New York, where she now lives. “In the Early Winter Trees” reflects environmental concerns in a hymn-like manner with bass and keyboard setting the aural scene for Martin’s hushed but urgent lyrics. “With the time that’s left/ Do something,” she suggests.
The theme continues in “A Place in the Country,” where “Birds are silenced by our crude desire.” Don’t let your heart be “Consumed by the thought/ It doesn’t have enough,” she implores.
Martin writes of places where broken hearts and shattered dreams threaten a better life that nonetheless seems to be still, perhaps just barely, within our reach. Sometimes the imagery and metaphors thicken, but the lovely melodies always carry hints of a way to where disillusionment cannot rule.
The sound of Martin’s music offers a comfort. But it’s an uneasy one that’s complicated by an artist’s open eyes and ears and a writer’s knowledge that “words are ruthless,” although there can also be found “a garden in an inkwell.”
Steve Feeney is a Portland freelance writer.