For the last two years, she has worked at terrapin speed on her third album in the shadows of the passing of two mentors, Vic Chesnutt and Mark Linkous.
I won’t lie. It will be difficult to be objective in this review. I first met Angela Faye Martin in 2008 during her search for the reclusive Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) because she was looking for a producer for the follow-up to her stark debut One Dark Vine. Mark had (in Bat Cave fashion) rented a warehouse across from my record store in Andrews to set up Static King Studios. While the Linkous-produced Pictures From Home expanded Martin beyond her shivery vocal style best suited for quiet coffee houses, Anniversary is her strongest statement to date.
The song that lured me on first listen was “Honey,” a fuzzy murder ballad one would suspect was reincarnated from a dusty Appalachian songbook for a Quentin Tarantino film. Martin, who has an affection for manual typewriters, provides the typed lyrics on her website. The hopeful sounding song “Grace” sprang from the little red children’s suitcases full of gear that she had in common with Chuck Cleaver of Wussy at a gig that they shared with Knoxville’s Tim Lee 3.
Martin says “Landslide,” a song which she has played live since the promotion of her second record, “was written regarding the treatment of the mountains by the state DOT. I have an interest in how coyotes integrate into our ecosystems in the absence of wolves, which we’ve extirpated from the mountains.” “Ravens at Night” was inspired by the film “Ghostbird” about the ivory-billed woodpecker and the culture surrounding it. “I don’t sew, except buttons, but sewing machines show up in my work occasionally. Much of the ivory-bill’s habitat was destroyed by the Singer Company to make sewing machine tables.”
Ravens and other feathered creatures seem to be a natural element of this songwriter’s world. She has covered Patti Smith’s “Ravens” in live shows, and her work has a mysterious quality that makes the listener recall the work of Edgar Allan Poe. Anyone who knows her well enough has discovered that she’s just a Georgia girl who gives names to her pet chickens and is not beyond thickening her Southern accent to get out of a traffic ticket.
“Lovesong for Paris” features polished instrumentation that recalls both Nick Drake and Isobel Campbell, until the chorus takes a sonic turn that’s obviously Linkous inspired. Martin simply explains “It’s a person wishing they had a gig in Paris.” The track definitely succeeds in shifting the mood from the charming Appalachian darkness that haunts much of the album.
Another heavily produced song is “Baker’s Wife,” a song that Martin says she wrote “back in my 12-string days.”
The most heart-wrenching moment is the bluntly autobiographical “Swifts & Swallows,” which recounts memories of her musical collaboration with Mark Linkous. “We kicked the campfire/We walked the mountain down/We got the call/You took your guns to town .... Things are not to ever be the same/Since the branches spelled your name/Across the sky.”
Oddly, Linkous’ presence can be felt as strongly on Anniversary as on the Linkous-produced Pictures From Home. Anniversary was recorded in Richmond, Va., with assistance from Mark’s brother Matt and was produced by Alan Weatherhead.
“Which Fork” is the album’s parting shot. Martin describes the pedal-steel ballad as “a country dirge for Vic Chesnutt. I wrote it in the weeks between Vic and Mark’s passing. The main verse that actually addresses Vic was taken out of the final mix. It makes the song a bit more universal that way, but when I play it live, I will put him back in there.”
Despite the dark themes covered on the album, perhaps the greatest wonder is that overall it doesn’t feel like a dark record, an attribute to Angela’s song craft and the unique qualities of her guitar playing. The artwork decorating the cover by Irene Hardwicke Olivieri titled “My Little Tranquilizers” helps make Angela Faye Martin’s Anniversary a nice purchase in CD or limited release vinyl.
Anniversary is available at City Lights Books and In Your Ear Music in Sylva. Also available at Dean’s Music in Andrews. For more information: www.angelafaye.com