Jeff Martin
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Jeff Martin

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The best kept secret in music


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The Exile And The Kingdom full length album


Feeling a bit camera shy


As songwriter, singer, producer and guitarist with the Tea Party, Jeff Martin brought grandeur, majesty and mystique back to rock music at a time when his peers and contemporaries were either reveling in all things punk rock, dumbing down the music for quick commercial gratification, or generally showing a lack of concern for melody, dynamics, musicianship and the manipulation of light and shade.

The Tea Party endeared itself to a rabid fan base on the strength of its manic, marathon live shows, the smoky sensuality of Martins voice, the musical expeditionary nature of the groups evolving palette of musical colors, the sheer ambitious scope of its studio recordings.

But above all, the band soared on the strength of Martins songs.

From The River to Temptation, from Save Me to Psychopomp, from Sister Awake to Heaven Coming Down, from The Master & Margarita to Oceans, this is a body of work unparalleled among Martins peer group. And its a body of work destined to endure, precisely because it is rooted in deep traditions.

Not surprisingly, Jeff Martin the solo artist is able to draw from this same well of inspiration. It is, after all, a well he dug himself.

This first batch of Martin solo songs bears the same markings of greatness as do the songs he penned and lovingly recorded with his friends Jeff Burrows and Stuart Chatwood, as the Tea Party. But theres something more here, and Ill go out on a limb and suggest that what were in fact witnessing is the full flourishing of Martins talents as both writer and storyteller, as a messenger of the muse.

What we have here are fully-actualized songs, with arrangements of ample flesh, conceptions of harmonic density, and performances - with Martin, not surprisingly, weighing in on an exotic showrooms worth of instruments - of startling depth and abundant conviction.

This is full-on rock music, the way they used to make it, back when the goal was to summon the magic, to build a bridge to something other, to create a sound of majesty and grandeur, rather than whittle away at a product in order to please the commercial powers that be. Listen to Martin, surrounded by an elegant, eastern melody, rocking his bollocks off on World is Calling, and realize that this is BIG music in every sense; its aim is a lofty one, its desire - echoed in the lyric - to transcend the mundane and the temporal and build something lasting.

It all bears the markings of the grandest achievements now irresponsibly filed under the classic rock umbrella - Zeppelins Physical Graffiti and Presence, the Whos most ambitious Quadrophenia/Whos Next epics, the sound that Qualli vocalist Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn squeezes from his body on Peter Gabriels Signal To Noise - but it is music set firmly in the present, with its eye on a future where rock music is not product, but food for the soul and encouragement for the seeker.

If all of this is a bit lofty, fear not; Martin and company can rock harder, and with more conviction and chops, than anyone in our mans peer group. Remember when arena rock wasnt a derogatory moniker, when it signified a music of significant size, boldness, beauty and consequence? Martin does. And thats exactly what the songs on Exile In the Kingdom are celebrating an delighting in. Live, this music promises to be a treat as well, with Michael Lee (Page/Plant) on drums, Rodney Appleby (bass), Ritesh Das (percussion) and Nelson Starr (keyboards).

Most immediately apparent when we hear this new Martin material, however - because we already knew Martin was this type of artist, have long known we could count on him to dare to be different, to dream deep velvet dreams when the rest of the world was wrapped in cheap flannel and army green - is the richness of Martins singing, delivered with immediacy in this rarefied, impassioned environment. Its a towering instrument, familiar, and yet, somehow undiscovered.

The songs, as with every project Martins helmed, tell a story, or more precisely, suggest a journey. This is one youre not likely to forget having taken.

Deep Celtic folk meets and melds with Eastern tonalities on Angel Dust; Elizabethan strains are funneled through a modernist, Jeff Buckley-like grandeur on a simply breathtaking interpretation of David Crosbys Guinevere; The Kingdom reaches for the ether, with the help of an emboldened gospel choir; a child is lovingly embraced in the generous spirit of Day Star, as rich, open-tuned acoustic guitars recall Bert Jansch, while supporting a near-transcendent melody; Black Snake Blues imagines Nick Drake on a back porch in the Mississippi delta; and stunning and confident composition and thunder permeate The World Is Calling and Where Do We Go From Here.

And through it all, theres the voice, so redolent with the suggestion of otherness, so rich in its ability to conjure a late-night, lamp-lit world of endless unfolding.

Thats Martins gift to us; his music throws the door open a crack, and the l