Album Review: Jeffrey Martin – One Go Around

I’ve already written a few pieces on Jeffrey Martin, so he’s not a new name to the steady readers of EarToTheGround. However, if you’re just now running across his music I invite you to sit down and take a deep breath. You haven’t heard musical poetry like this for a long time, maybe ever. Martin’s interest in literature and folk music blends perfectly in this fantastic new album. In short, One Go Around is a clear candidate for album of the year.

“I’m not a bad man, I’m a poor man” is a lyric I had written on my personal socialy media long before this album came out. An early version of the song on YouTube had torn me emotionally to pieces, so I had to contemplate the lyrics for a long time. When I finally got to hear this studio version of the song, I found the balance of Martin’s beautiful fingerpicking and poetic lyrics to punctuate the heart-melting message of the song. It’s about class, sure, but it’s also about survival and I love that.

Martin has a penchant for writing a complicated guitar part that just feels so calming to the ear that you can’t even tell it’s fancy. This song has that kind of background that allows you to key in on the melody. The lyrics are exceptional, portraying some nostalgic images that surely pop for the listener. These are salt of the earth characters, allowing the listener to envision friends and family in these familiar places. As with so many of Martin’s songs, it undoubtedly has a deep meaning, but each listener will pull different elements. The central question of duty and spirituality permeates through questions of the sacred and the profane. This is remarkable writing.

“Golden Thread” is electric, rather than acoustic, but Martin keeps his overall simple sonic structure. Again he does that desperate expression that sounds like he’s projecting his vocal, but still sounds like a raspy folk singer. The song comes with some harmonies and layered strings, creating a different textures than others on the album. There’s a romantic element to the lyrics, an appreciation for a beautiful woman that he’s with. “Shut my eyes with a song that will never end” is one of my favorite lines on the whole album. It’s just a glorious folk song.

The track “Billy Burroughs” is a tragic song. If you’ve never heard Martin tell the story of this track, you really should. It’s about the writer William Burroughs and an unfortunate accident. In an effort to avoid spoilers, let’s just say this is folk music at its best; the music lulls you into bliss and the lyrics punch you in the gut.

“Sad Blue Eyes” is about moving on and not forgetting. Yet again Martin shines in featuring common folk. It also happens to have the single best line on the album and maybe the best penned in 2017. “Likes a girl with scars on her arms; it proves she ain’t seen what she wants to yet.” Don’t take this the wrong way, neither Martin or ETTG support self harm, but the poetic truth at the core of the lyric makes it just… breathtaking. On more than one occasion I’ve had to stop the album right at that lyric before moving on. It’s really heavy.

The literary style of “October Dark” is stunning as well. This is not the kind of person that gets songs written about them, except maybe by Kris Kristofferson or Willie Nelson. And really, that’s the tradition that Martin writes in. The powerful lyrical content is the substance and the music is the vehicle. But yet the lightness in Martin’s guitar composition is excellent as well. I will warn you that the last verse of this song will give you chills if you have an empathetic bone in you at all.

The first time I heard “Time Away” I tweeted it to John Prine because he needs to hear this song. I hope he did. I am not sure if Martin self consciously channeled Prine on this track, but it certainly sounds like he did. From the tone to the phrasing, it’s a quintessentially Prine tune. Even the way the fingerpicking crawls feels a little different. I am not sure, but I’d bet the chord progression is similar to “Hello in there.” The line, “I don’t wanna buy nothin’ less it gets me back to you” is not only gorgeous, it sounds like something Prine would write. Homages to loneliness and anti-materialism seem to be direct tips of the hat to the old troubadour.

So you finish this song and think “alright we’ll get a nice silly song now to help us move forward” and literally the next line knocks you over. “I’ve got that faraway sadness in my eyes again…” Oh, Jeffrey. It’s a bit about life on the road, a bit about the power of music, and a lot about love. It’s an incredible song that allows a well-placed fiddle part to sooth the soul.

The classic folk-rock-country style of “Surprise, Arizona” puts me in mind of David Ramirez, another of ETTG’s favorites. Heck, there’s even a slide guitar on this one. This one feels a bit like a private conversation made public for us, but the emotions are so relatable that the listener can’t help but connect. The next one is “What We’re Marching Toward,” a sort of Dylan style tune. Poetic lyrics, well-placed harmonica, and an anti-war message… an unfortunately common theme in American music.

If you didn’t get enough political truth from the previous message, there’s “Hand on a Gun,” a song about hatred and power. There’s not much to add to the song other than to say that it perfectly summarizes how I’ve felt for the past year. That heavy, brooding, ominous reality that there are people who want to kill me because I believe in democracy and equal rights. The tangible sense of evil, captured and in a way exorcised by Martin, is some of the most prayerfully true substance I’ve heard… ever.

The album ends with the title track “One Go Around,” which uses the electric guitar as the feature instrument again. But you’ll also hear a subtle organ, which sets the spiritual tone for the lyrics about God’s control in the world. The crux of the song is about only having one chance to live life. Rather than a hedonistic take on it, Martin reminds his listeners to live life fully. “Feel your heart beatin’ in your chest.” Yes, sir. Absolutely.

I love this album more than I can adequately express. Rarely does an artist speak so perfectly to an individual, but this album is that match for me. Further, I’d like to assume that many other people will feel the same way once they are willing to explore the spiritual, romantic, and existential questions that the album presents. This is poetry with music or it’s music with poems, but no matter what you call it this will move your heart and challenge your mind.

*Full disclosure: The author, Greg Jones, was a Kickstarter supporter on this album. He receives no royalties for sales, but does have a positive bias toward the artist and album.

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