Rebecca Martin never appeared content to just sing, sometimes accompanying herself on guitar. Yet she has done both with nuanced beauty in a voice that has always sounded delicate, sometimes raw and vulnerable, but always in control of her emotions. Curiously, while building a formidable reputation as a singer and a songwriter, making this extraordinarily poignant music alone, often in the company of Jesse Harris and now with Larry Grenadier, Miss Martin has never courted recognition as a lyricist – indeed as a poet – both of which she could easily lay claim to be. The music largely written during her partnership with Mr Harris, some of which appears on this Japanese vinyl Thoroughfare provides ample, early evidence of Miss Martin’s growing craftsmanship in all three artistic facets: music, song lyrics; and the poetry contained in each that acts as its glue.
It is early music, recorded two decades ago, to be precise. Experienced with the hindsight of more recent recordings it is worth noting, first of all, how much of that the purity and innocence in Miss Martin’s voice has been preserved in later recordings. More to the point, on this music from Thoroughfare the aching yearning in Miss Martin’s is touches the senses and is almost spine-tingling at times – most pointedly as she utters the word “Goodbye” whilst she reaches for the upper registers in her voice at the end of the song. Rarely – if at all – has a feminine voice sound so pure and high-sprung. And here one is struck by the physicality of her poetry: “As if for the first time/I’d think of the songs that have passed through them” (“Empty Hands”), which makes for an image so alive and so immediate and so touchingly concrete.
And the utter beauty with which Miss Martin is capable of describing love’s painful discovery is utterly breathtaking as in “Joey” when she asks, “Joey when’d you learn to turn your eyes into those/Dim twin half-moons?” Also sharp, indeed, is her power to pick and convey the most piercing aspect of an image – like one that the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson would have called “the decisive moment” – to present the most aching picture for “a listener” to see in “Arthur, “Watching all of the passersby/His hands held out to you and I”. It is no wonder that Miss Martin has been able to stop us in our tracks with music that seems to have been written not with a pencil on paper, but the raw nerve-ends of her bare fingers propelled by an aching heart.
It’s no wonder that this vinyl, prepared with characteristic Japanese perfection, is a record to absolutely to die for one heart-soft prick at a time…
Track list – Side A – 1: Goodbye My Love; 2: Your Arms Around Me Now; 3: Thoroughfare; 4: Arthur; 5: Empty Hands. Side B – 1: All Day Long I’ve Been Crying; 2: 4th And Cornelia; 3: Joey; 4: At Different Times; 5: The Red Wall
Personnel – Rebecca Martin: vocals, harmonies (A 1–3), acoustic guitar (A 5, B 5) and Wurlitzer (A 1); Steve Cardenas: electric guitar (A 1–4; B 2–5), acoustic guitar (A 1, B 1) and nylon-string guitar (A 3); Larry Grenadier: electric bass and contrabass (A4, B 3, 5); Kenny Wollesen: drums (A 1, 2 B 1, 2, 4), percussion (A 1, 2), harmonium (A 4), marimba (B 3) and vibraphone (B 5)
Released – 2018
Label – Think! Records (THLP 435)
Runtime – Side A 12:28 Side B 19:39