Review by Rick jensen
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CD Stock Number: Good Dog gd0004
Sleeper, the third album by Terence
Martin who is a singer based in the New York area, is his best so far and a fine example of the folk music that remains, for the most part, underground in American popular culture. Martin places himself very clearly in the pop-folk lineage going back at least to the early 1960s. At first listen, he reminds one a little of John
Prine, or of Tom Rush, with some Dylanesque flourishes. But Martin distinguishes himself from them with maturity and wisdom in both his performance and his writing that tell you that he has been around the block a few times.
His earlier albums, Division Street (1997) and Waterproof (2000), incorporated the same brew of guitar-based folk, bluegrass, country, and folk-rock as does the current, but Martin has become more "electric" over time. Still, there is no lack of genuine and contemplative folk music on
The opening cut, my personal favorite, tells the listener a great deal about Martin's work. "The Way it Didn't Go" is a recitation of a love story that never was, a laundry list of what could have been. A bittersweet, ironic, and pensive lyric is smoothly paired with a gorgeous, almost toe-tapping melody. Most of Martin's songs are classic in structure (2-3 verses with chorus, release, verse) and this is no exception, but the song starts quietly and gently gathers force through the sheer weight of the thoughts and the forward momentum of the arrangement. Typical of his work is the delicate interlacing of voices, harmonica, mandolin, keyboards, and guitars. While the theme is one of regret, there is an underlying humor that seems to derive from the very grown-up recognition that chance and randomness play a role in our lives, and there is often little we can do about it.
Martin has a penchant for using odd, unexpected similes and metaphors, often imbued with a false naïveté. In "Sleeper on a Westbound Train" we hear the narrator "spinning like a dust devil / like a motel ceiling fan". Many of Martin's songs are about a search for meaning or for connection, for some kind of grounding, and the images he uses - from sleeper cars to open windows on a harbor, the grass that grows "like a stubborn thought", and a woman who "wore our love like a loose fitting dress" - underscore both the search and an underlying lack of certainty.
While the lyrics are perhaps the center of attention, Martin has a fine ear for a good melody, and his fellow musicians serve him well throughout. One excellent cut, "Sky the Wrong Color", surprises a bit with a deft instrumental finish featuring nice harmonica and some very pretty guitar work (credited to Charlie Karp, I believe) in the style of Tim Renwick or Mark
Finally, the production quality of this album is clearly superior to Martin's first two records - it is first-rate. His rich vocals are intimate and well balanced without being too far forward, and there is clarity and space around all the instruments. In all, this album might be a pleasant surprise for those who have not heard Terence Martin before. Highly recommended.