Rebecca Martin: People Behave Like Ballads

[22 November 2004]

By Jason MacNeil

Rebecca Martin is originally from Maine but moved to the Big Apple in 1990. When she was there she came in touch with a singer-songwriter named Jesse Harris. The pair formed a group called Once Blue which would go on to open for singers like Emmylou Harris and Shawn Colvin. They even managed a spot on the precious Lilith Fair tour. But then Martin went her way and Harris went his, later meeting up with some singer named Norah Jones. Martin hasn’t yet achieved or penned an uber hit like Harris, but this album is another stepping stone in the right direction. Writing all of the material herself (except for two songs with a co-writer) is a plus and having a label design the cover to look like an older, more restrained and classic jazz album doesn’t hurt either. Add to that the support of talented musicians and Martin should have a good album here. Right? Well, read on, I can’t tell you now . . .

“Lead Us” leads the album into a peaceful, jazzy place as Martin’s vocals lead the way. Although she’s not quite as raspy or sultry as perhaps Jones, Cassandra Wilson, or the legendary Shirley Horn, Martin holds her own with help from Bill McHenry on tenor saxophone and Darren Beckett keeping the beat. Soft and almost velvety, the tune saunters along like a walk on a cool autumn Sunday afternoon. “I’m not ashamed to say that it takes this man / To get me back to a place where I’m feeling more like a woman”, she sings before repeating the brief refrain often. Fans of Rickie Lee Jones might also appreciate the song even though there isn’t much of an earthy feel to it. “Here the Same But Different” is something that Norah Jones was influenced by without question. Soft and sickeningly romantic for even the hardest of hearts, Martin’s smooth and almost sexy energy is a definite turn on to the tune. Backed by Peter Rende on both piano and Fender Rhodes, the song is definitely heartfelt and gets your attention immediately. Martin can put you at ease—if not asleep—with this approach.

The childlike innocence Martin transmits is pristine on “These Bones Are Yours Alone”, which might be compared to Cyndi Lauper in a vulnerable frame of mind. A touch somber but still blurring the line between jazz and adult contemporary jazz a la Diana Krall, the chanteuse speaks and sings the song equally, often doing the latter on the last phrase or word of the line. “No one knows! No one understands! / There’s comfort in thinking you’re alone”, she sings as if still not making peace with the past. Just sit back, close your eyes and savor this ditty! “I’d Like to Think It’s Coming” continues along this thread as Martin carries the song in an almost a cappella fashion, just the barest and simplest of acoustic guitar holding the tear-jerking melody. Ditto for the economically-worded “It’s Only Love”, containing eight lines that resonate greater than songs with eight verses. Unfortunately “It Won’t Be Long,” inches along down a rather mediocre road a la Peggy Lee while “Learning” is contemporary pop in the vein of Natalie Merchant or the post-Merchant 10,000 Maniacs.

Another sleeper-cum-gem of a song is “East Andover”, which is as feathery and light as an autumn leaf falling to the ground. Martin uses a mandolin and acoustic guitar here, but it’s the tenor saxophone again that crosses the sonic T’s and dots the sonic I’s. There are some low points, though, especially on “Old Familiar Song”, which sounds like, well, an old familiar song that’s been perfected dozens of times prior. After a lengthy and rather trying “Lonesome Town”, Martin picks the pace up with a mid-tempo jazz pop effort entitled “I’m Not Afraid”. A Shirley Bassey-esque “I’m The One” is a different domain for Martin, but she nails the tune perfectly. On the whole, though, this album is jazz that you should long for.

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