It's been four years since Rebecca Martin last led a record date. In the interim she's given birth to her son Charlie, recorded on a Paul Motian project, and founded a citizen organization dedicated to local projects and government. Luckily for us, she's also taken the time to harvest a fresh batch of beautiful, original songs to enjoy on her CD The Growing Season. It's a strong continuation of her songwriting and fits squarely into her wider creative continuity.
It's also a reunion of sorts. Three members from Martin's 1995 group, Once Blue, work together for the first time since their excellent, and only, recording 13 years ago: Martin, guitarist/writer Kurt Rosenwinkel, and songwriter Jesse Harris. Harris co-wrote only one track with Martin but his contributions are always creatively strong and his presence adds to the project's sense of continuity.
The CD opens with one of its strongest and most accessible songs, "The Space In A Song To Think." It's a perfect example of Martin's knack for writing lines that combine melodic and harmonic sophistication with effortlessly catchy hooks. This hook will catch anything that moves. Martin's warm and easygoing delivery, the relaxed harmonic rhythm, loose bossa-ish feel, soft background vocal harmonies, and Rosenwinkel's mellow Rhodes piano riding the rhythm section, combine to make this tune an equivalent to comfort food: Comfort Music. It creates a space you want to fall into and revel in long past closing time.
Not one to shy away from difficult subjects, The Growing Season takes a somewhat dark turn about halfway through. "As For You, Raba," co-written with Rosenwinkel, concerns an act of violence and a victim's defenselessness. Rosenwinkel's piano introduction creates an appropriately melancholy landscape for Martin to enter into this brutal tale. Yet in her hands, confronting the truth in song is a kind of healing. The subject matter is as rough as anything on P.J. Harvey's terrific, yet ghostly chilling release White Chalk (Island, 2007). Yet somehow Martin comes through as comforting while Harvey is mainly frightening (not a bad thing for either). Following "Raba" are two songs dealing with war and how it separates families and leaves soldiers psychologically damaged when (if) they return home. Martin isn't a folk protest artist per se, but there are shades of that element on this record.
As always, Martin brings a band that is second to none: the ever-evolving Rosenwinkel on guitars, various keyboards, vibraphone, and producing; her husband Larry Grenadier on basses; and rhythm master and all-around musical sensei Brian Blade on drums and percussion. These friends have all traveled in similar musical circles for a long time and the personal rapport shines through the music. They're something of a fellowship you might say.
Martin's poetic lyrics, rich and sweet vocal delivery, and sophisticated songwriting arrangements continue to flow on The Growing Season. Her challenging writing of things worldly, things unseen, beauty, pain, learning, changing, and loving are as artfully rendered here as on any of her past recordings. She is still growing.
Personnel: Rebecca Martin: vocals, acoustic guitar; Kurt Rosenwinkel: electric guitar, piano, nylon string guitar, keyboards, Fender Rhodes, tack piano, vibraphone; Larry Grenadier: acoustic and electric bass; Brian Blade: drums and percussion.