For fans of: David Ramirez, Noah Gundersen, John Fullbright
One of the things I’ve come to realize about music is that there’s a time and a place for it. I just wasn’t ready for this album It came in, generously, as a double vinyl submission. I left it on the shelf for months and months. So when I finally took the time to listen to it, I immediately discovered that it’s beautiful and amazing. Fans of David Ramirez and Noah Gundersen simply must give Jeffrey Martin a listen. He’s got that earnest, soft-yet-gravely delivery. He’s great.
Another reason for the Gundersen comparison is the violin accompaniment, which helps to set the subtle mood of the songs. The opener “Coal Fire” highlights the violin and Martin’s vocals wonderfully. The words discuss what seems to be a disaster, both literal and metaphorical. The layers of imagery, wrapped in simplicity, are excellent.
“Man” is about serving in the armed forces. “Go bleed overseas and don’t forget to bleed proud…” It’s a phenomenal, understated but intriguing song. “You are a man now…” It’s about masculinity, citizenship, and nationalism. It’s about home and never coming back. It’s about love and life in violent, true, beautiful ways.
The title track “Dogs in the Daylight” is similarly thought provoking, while soothing. But that horn is so sweet at the beginning of the track. The trumpet player is about as smooth as possible, setting up a sweltering summer slow swing. With a waltz beat and a nice bluesy main line, Martin’s lyrics again tell an exquisite story. “A man is only a man until he isn’t.” It’s about cowardice and ugliness, about lacking virtue and being despicable. Frankly, it makes me want to be a better person. It’s that kind of song.
“Newborn Thing” has a beautiful violin part that highlights carefully the well-articulated lines of Martin’s vocals. Deeply introspective while telling simple tales. Really, Martin’s style is quintessentially folk. He spins yarns and tells tales about what it means to be human. This particular track is existential, about finding meaning in life and doing something with life while you’re here because, “a dead man has nothing to gain.”
“Wellspring” is an absolutely stunning track. It’s complicated and gripping. It’s about a man who commits a murder and runs away. But obviously it’s about more than this allegorical man. It’s about the “wellspring” that he repeatedly runs into. As I sat on my porch listening to this track emanating from the vinyl, I felt pangs of pain and hope and joy. Mostly, I smiled at how the images worked so well. They say great songwriting is right on the line of feeling cliché, but instead is actually profound. This phenomenal track accomplishes that rare feat.
There’s a nice little bass line on “Hard Year” that just gets to me deep. It plods along sweetly. Maybe I like it because of some deep, generations-rooted love for the instrument. But it really works nicely with the song as Martin sings about seemingly ordinary life. I couldn’t help but think about my own family listening to the song. I think that’s just right. “It’s been a hard year but I don’t wanna talk about it here. It’s been a long fall but I’m climbin’ out.” It just drips of emotion. And the strings are glorious.
There really aren’t any tracks to skip, but with it being 15 songs I’m skipping a few to keep the review reasonable in length. But this album is worth every gorgeous track. “Best is for the Best” is about a past relationship, parting, and enduring. One of the things I like most about this album is that Martin writes for the everyman music fan. It’s a sort of folksy Bruce Springsteen. He writes about love and tragedy. There’s an episode in this track about a boat tragedy, others about being from a small town, and looking back on what happens in life. It’s so true. That’s the thing – it’s just so true.
“Draw the Line” uses a piano instead of a guitar. It honestly reminds me of David Ramirez’s fantastic “Shoeboxes,” which I’ve written about here. It’s that same kind of nostalgic perfection. It has shades of a slowed down Johnny Cash. In some ways it’s his heart and delivery that makes the songs work more so than any kind of technical brilliance (although the song is beautifully constructed). Although “Corners” jumps back to the guitar, it has a similar retrospective feeling. This one throws in a very welcome female duo voice. The two highlight each other nicely, showing off the softer side of Martin’s vocal and adding a bit of sincerity to the sweet nostalgia encapsulated in the lyrics.
It’s hard to believe that after a few album transfers and needle drops it can feel “too soon,” but when “Grower of Trees” starts, the listener can’t help but feel a little let down. “I wanna sing until the world stands still. I wanna play ’til I am younger still. It’s a simple thing.” Speaking for your listeners, sir, we agree. The piano lullaby is about dreams and love (that apparently didn’t happen). It’s the best of that song we’ve all written – the song about what could have been. “It’s a simple thing, but it’s all that there is.”
Martin is a songwriter’s songwriter. Frankly, I’m surprised we’re not talking about these songs making it big time. I don’t mean top 40, but “big time” as in being on TV shows and films. His style and substance transcend any simplicity of genre. His work reminds me of the first few listens of the Milk Carton Kids when I thought, “is this for real?” The term “unbelievable” is so over used, but here it really applies. I can’t even believe my ears at how good this album is from start to finish. It went from a “oh, I’ll get around to it” to an album I will listen to on rotation with John Fullbright and other legendary songwriters. It’s that good.
Fans of singer songwriters and/or folk music should buy this album today. Seriously support this art; it will leave you speechless.