Martin Devaney
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Martin Devaney


Band Americana Singer/Songwriter


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"The Devaney-Dylan Debacle"

Poor Martin Devaney. The guy’s been compared to Bob Dylan more times than I can remember, and here I am about to heave another blessed curse his way.

Some people seem to think that comparing artists to other artists is a tell-tale sign of a Lay-Z-Boy critic, while others find it an essential way to relate to the music being described; until very recently, I subscribed to the former philosophy when it came to Devaney. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they both play acoustic guitar and sing folk songs and have those goofy harmonica holders that wrap around their necks like middle school geeks’ headgear getups, and sure, they both have mad scientist hair and are known to grin slyly, like they know more than they should about this world. But isn’t comparing anyone to Dylan a hefty judgment? I mean, isn’t Bob Dylan widely considered to be a musical icon and legend? And, most importantly, won’t that kind of catastrophic compliment weigh down on poor Martin’s soul?

There has to be more to this comparison. We music critics can’t all be idiots. If we’re going to lob these kinds of assertions at local musicians we had better have the goods to back it up.

I can feel a rant coming on but I’m going to cool down and start from the beginning. Let’s walk back in time for a moment.

I first met Martin Devaney when I was 18 years old. It was the summer after high school graduation, a time of total freedom and passion and vitality. My boyfriend, Mr. Long Lost Love, and I made a pact that we would go to as many shows as we could that summer and, having first started our wild summer flame at a Dan Israel show, we followed him around to every coffee shop in town. One night, back when I still got to shows before they started and stayed until long after the last chord, I had positioned myself in a prime location to see Dan Israel play a set at Coffee Grounds in St. Paul (not far, actually, from the school that I would attend that fall and eventually grow to hate – but that’s another story for another time). I had already tore through the music columns in both alt weeklies and jotted notes pensively on my napkin like the good little budding writer I was when Martin took the tiny stage. He was a pale, skinny, nervous kid, and he didn’t look much older than me; before he had even started to play I found him fascinating.

I knew right away that Martin wasn’t like other average Joe coffee shop crooners. His voice had a distinctive, delicate rasp and he sang with a sort of amiable drawl. His lyrics were clever, bordering on tongue-in-cheek at points, and it was clear that he was speaking from experience about his trials with love and learning. The music he played was painfully simple yet somehow profound. Even then I knew he was special.

I bought his album at the show and rambled on to him about seeing his name in the paper and how I liked his songs, and he smiled kindly and looked at me sideways as if trying to decide whether to shake my hand or run out the door. I took his album, Whatever That Is, home and played it in rotation with Dan Israel’s Dan Who? and Jeff Buckley’s Grace and Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, and they all seemed to work together pretty well in my stereo. That fall I fumbled through my very first interview by asking Martin a laundry list of incredibly boring questions, which I turned into an article for my school newspaper that I promptly hung up on my dorm room wall next to a torn poster of John Lennon and a couple of articles by Jim Walsh. I accepted Martin’s music readily and wanted him to be a successful artist, just as much as I wanted to become a real writer; I thought of him so fondly, I think, because I felt that we were at a similar stages creatively, though I never told him that.

It’s been five years and Martin continues to release album after album, including this fall’s Letters Never Sent, and he has managed to maintain his role as a prolific, relevant, and heartfelt songwriter despite juggling the duties of running his own label, Eclectone Records, and showing up at just about every damn local show in town to support other musicians in the scene. Letters just might be his best album yet, and it simultaneously reminds me of the songs on his first album and serves as a marker for how incredibly far he has come as a songwriter and singer in five short years.

There is an earthy quality on the record, more so than on his previous endeavors, and as I continued to absorb the songs I started to get a strange, creeping feeling at the nape of my neck. There was something about this record that set it apart from the others. And, wouldn’t you know, it reminded me of a strange, creeping feeling that I had recently gotten while listening to another new album: Bob Dylan’s Modern Times.

No, I thought to myself, this can’t be happening. I knew what I had to write before the thought had even finished forming in my mind. My mind raced as I fought against an overwhelming urge to grab the nearest flat object and s - Minneapolitan Music/Andrea Myers

""Letters Never Sent" Review--Pulse of the Twin Cities"

To get a handle on 26-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist Martin Devaney, one must first ken that he’s a complete, total and unembarrassed romantic. Not the cheeky, aw-shucks-you-don’t-really-like-lil’-ol’-me kinda romantic that say, Ryan Adams is, and not the raw, expansive, almost ancient (even when he was in his 20s himself) kinda romantic Dylan was/is. Naw, Martin is one of those rare rock ’n’ roll romantics who so unself-consciously exude their unchainable inner romantic that you just know they really and truly don’t realize what an intrinsic part of their artistic personality it really is.

I mean, Devaney—who’s checking in with his fourth release in almost as many years with Letters Never Sent—simply isn’t the kind of guy (at least at this point in his life—and if it ever happens I’d suspect it was forced or at the very least less than solid) who’d write a song like Adams’ “Rosalie Come And Go,” a tune about some prostitutes the song’s character (or was it REALLY Ryan, har, har) had met and befriended and somehow thought he’d immortalize in song.

OK—he might write a song in that vein, but he’d never be as cavalier and downright uncaring as Adams (whose songwriting I absolutely adore, so fans just keep your poison pens in your pockets and purposes—I’m only using Adams and one of his songs as an example here) seems, and he’d probably somehow end up falling for one of the hookers and trying to clean her up. Sorry, Martin—ain’t it a bitch to care TOO much?

Frankly, as catchy as the song is, as a guy who’s actually counted some prostitutes as friends IN REAL LIFE, I find it mildly insulting, and suspect they would, too. Rosalie (the real one) probably still wants to kick Ryan Adams’ ass. Martin, on the other hand, continues to pen ditties that ring with self-inflicted wounds of the heart and actually sound like they’re coming from a real guy you could sit and have a beer with. Which you can—Martin’s not only a nifty songwriter, but a rabid music lover who’s a genuine joy to just sit and shoot the shit with.

But back to the songs—I can’t really see Martin penning a ditty about a political cause celebre’ like Bobby D. did with “Hurricane,” either. Not that Martin couldn’t write a song about any subject he chose, including those I mentioned, and do a damn good job at it, too. He certainly could. It’s just that some guys have a knack for whatever it is they have a knack for, and Devaney has a knack for writing soul-aching, love-weary ballads (mostly about “Refugees of romances,” as he puts it on this album) of the heart.

Oh, in case you were wondering—to me, that’s a good thing. It also doesn’t mean Martin can’t cover other subjects or broach other points of view—it’s just that rather than cast a song in stone about one particular subject, Martin has an odd and attractive gift for swirling together a bevy of topics (from today’s tone of fear and apathy in America to the doubt and lost direction of his own generation) with his lethal little cocktails of love and somehow pulling it off. Trust me—a few aural sips off this album will have you warm, fuzzy and ensconced in your own personal happy hour in no time.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, keep in mind that I’m the guy who’ll play The Replacements’ “Here Comes A Regular” at happy hour rather than a P-Funk classic or a raunchy classic rocker, cuz sad songs make me fucking happy, and if THAT doesn’t make sense to ya, I dunno what to tell ya.

Devaney’s pipes have never been his strongest suit (but then, neither were those of some of his musical heroes/muses, like Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits)—not that they’re hard on the ears, just that they take a few spins to get used to. Live, it’s a whole different ball game—seeing Martin’s facial expressions and hearing his witty between-song banter somehow warms you to his voice immediately. Ask anyone who’s seen/heard him play out, and you’ll probably get the same reaction.

On Letters, however, we find a man who’s somehow slipped into his “real” voice (again, not to keep bringing Dylan up, but hearing Martin’s easy-going, natural style on this album is kinda like hearing Bob sing “Lay Lady Lay” using his own real voice on tape for the first time in something like eight years)—at least the voice of who he is now, at this age, in this time, in this mind/heartset—and sounding damn comfortable in it.

And, unlike a plethora of “cutely” titled modern albums glutting up yer local music shop, Letters Never Sent actually sounds like a record that lives up to its title. Each track does feel like a missed-opportunity missive—and more than a few ring out (to me, anyhow) like notes I would’ve, could’ve or should’ve sent to various people—OK, girls—myself over the years.

Album opener, “Flowers On The Doorstep,” creaks out like a Whiskeytown classic, all tear-stained bar-floor shimmy (thanks, in no small part, to vocalist/fiddler JoAnna James) and busted trust shuffle—right off the bat, Martin sound - Pulse/Tom Hallett

""Letters Never Sent"'s The Other Side Of Country"

I like Martin Devaney’s music because I know all of the honesty and earnestness behind it. He’s a man so driven to make music that if he saw a roach banging on a pop can with a matchstick, howling at a half eaten crust of garlic bread, he’d set up an eight track board and tell the roach one more time, with a little more feeling. Someday, all the suits will die and Pepperland will be free again,* but until that day comes, there are outfits like Eclectone Records, where folks who want to make music out of self defense can do so. I’m through “arguing” about the future of Americana, Alt-Twang-Pop, or whatever the fuck you want to call it. The thing is, people get out of bed every morning in every city in this country and put pick to acoustic guitar, pedal to steel, and foot to ass, and it comes out slightly hillbilly lost in the red brick jungle, moaning about unique shit that doesn’t always involve senoritas, margaritas and fucking angels.

Two (2) songs on Letters Never Sent do wonders for my little hipster doofus heart: “An Open Letter (song 2)” and “Drought (song 3).”

I got blood in my eyes
and there’s chaos on the wall
and the spider now has 9 legs
when I see him crawl
and the little sun is settin’
on the streets of old St. Paul
and I don’t know how I fell this far

Queue the fucking saxophones. Sean Hoffman’s driving beat is the “Folsom Prison” train, moved to town, screeching to a halt every 3 minutes to pick up 15 more zombies on their way to the next shit hole in their lives. This is songwriting boys and girls, and it’s what separates Minneapolis from Omaha, Nebraska, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Megargle, Texas.

well she was a cast iron beauty too
so sturdy and true
and she had come along always
spun a dime store fable
a touch beneath the table
burned out and becoming amazed

and when the kiss was over
the more i missed her shoulder
the more the flame fled from red to blue
and when the drought came down
i guess i always knew

Queue the foot tapping. This is city fishing. This is jerking a wild animal out of the asphalt and taking a photo to juxtapose the feral and the urban. You gotta dig it when somebody knows how to put pen to paper, wheat to sidewalk, BobCat to metaphorical dirt pile of self pity.

My pet song on the record is “Blessing and the Blame (song 8),” but only because I’m a sucker for ghostly steel guitar and growling about chicks. - City Pages/Jack Sparks

"Minneapolis Star Tribune Review of Letters Never Sent"

“Devaney’s ‘Letter’ day

It’s amazing that Eclectone Records founder Martin Devaney—one of the hardest-shilling guys in local show business—even found time to make his own new album, “Letters Never Sent,” which he’s promoting Saturday at the Turf Club. All the more impressive is that “Letters” boasts the kind of poetry that most of us would be lucky to produce just once in our lives.

Over a basic Americana soundtrack (a little piano, a bit o’ violin, loose guitar parts), Devaney offers a less-than-basic view on a musicians’ lifestyle. Things like “living for a ringing phone or a printed page,” as he puts it in “Five Day Affair.”An Open Letter” finds him “clenched up like a fist.” And in the tender downer “Almost Alone,” he sings to an either unforgiving or unrequited love, “All I’ve got to give are these hand-me-down dreams, pillow pardons and matchbook poems.” The guy’s truly on fire here. ” - Star Tribune/ Chris Riemenschneider

"Amplifier Magazine review of Letter Never Sent"

Modern Times for modern times? Akin to another Minnesota born singer-
songwriter from generations previous, Martin Devaney documents life
with a fractured, somewhat cynical stance, whilst plying cinematic
lyrics through a timeless roots rock/folk medium. With a voice like
sand and glue, Devaney is often lovesick throughout Letters Never
Sent, yet you can't help but crack a smile as the horns kick in
during the seductive instrumental interludes of "An Open Letter". In
Devaney's world romance goes awry (Five Day Affair), cast iron
beauties and dime store fables abound (Drought), and redemption seems
hopelessly out of reach (Blessing and the Blame). Yet all is not lost
thanks to his co-vocalist on mamy of the tracks, Joanna James. She
evens the score in "Flowers on the Doorstep" to the extent that you
don't know who's hurtin' and who is doing the hurtin'... which
reminds me of another song-writer from Minnesota. Highly recommended
for followers of latter day Dylan, Lucinda, and the dozen or so
albums Ryan Adams will release by the time you read this. - Amplifier

"Americana UK review of La Mancha"

Twin Cities Alt-Pop/Rock with a rootsy edge. Part of the same scene that spawned Dan Israel and The Ashtray Hearts, though less folky than the former and less gothic than the latter, Martin Devaney and his impressively drunk looking pseudo-loser bandmates turn out to make determinedly melodic and upbeat alt pop. Their melodies insist on imposing themselves as much as their (regularly) broken hearts, yet some of the time, you might be forgiven for thinking that some of what’s going on is impeded by a tongue planted in a cheek. So- energetic, ironic, emotional and slightly irreverent, then- just what the old quack ordered, and the boy Devaney emotes “never crossed the city-line”-isms like a good ‘un. It’s hard to get this style right without sounding workman-like: even Uncle Tupelo managed that occasionally on “Still Feel Gone”, yet the Devaney sound is loose enough, and hints at late 60’s RnB enough to make you want to dance when you’re not despairingly staring into your pint. The album begins with “Is That You?”, a bouncing Tillbrook / Jam-esque tune, both wistful and a bit dumb, as though it might forget what it’s up to or change it’s way half way through; yet something that catches in Martin’s voice makes you think of Westerberg, or of Mould singing “Keep Hanging On”; it’s a strange feeling in a deceptively light song. “Theme For An Anonymous Waitress” is pretty mellow but involving, possibly edging towards Lloyd Cole territory with a twist of Scud Mountain Boys and The Cars; “Empty Moon”, though, is more rock n soul, a bit Ryan Adams and a bit Robyn Hitchcock. “La Mancha” won’t immediately make an impression on you, or ever be your favourite record, but it’s catchy, has a heart and deserves a wide audience.

- Americana UK

"Americana UK review of Letters Never Sent"

When you have a pretty ordinary voice, as Devaney has, you’d better have something else going for you or there’s be no reason for paying any attention. Devaney has craft, he does what he does very well, works within limits, sticks to what he knows, and produces good work. Pete Krebs is a good reference point, the songs are better than standard Americana, the music is full of well-oiled detail occasionally reaching the heights of very good ‘Almost Alone’ and ‘Five Day Affair’ would be perfect compilation fodder, you’d be tracking down the album in hours, and in truth you wouldn’t be disappointed by the whole album, maybe, you’d just think it wasn’t as good as you’d expect it to be.

It is testament to how quickly music evolves that this sounds kind of old-fashioned, like something of a Glitterhouse sampler, vaguely alt, medium paced, full of gentle feelings, small disappointments, nothing at all to dislike. Quietly impressive is perhaps a better description, and when you consider it is his fourth record in as many years, and he is in his mid-twenties, you realise that Devaney is one of the quiet ones you need to listen closely too, as this is the kind of sound that grows in stature with every listen.

- Americana UK


Full lengths:
Somebody Somewhere (2002)
September (2002)
La Mancha (2004)
Letters Never Sent (2006)



Born and raised in St. Paul, MN. Founded Eclectone Records in 2002 (21 albums released to date). I've toured a fair amount in the midwest and up and down 35E, sharing stages with Dan Bern, Mason Jennings, the Jayhawks, Ike Reilly, Crooked Fingers, Mike Doughty, Robbie Fulks, Eleni Mandell, Andrew Bird, Damien Jurado, Slim Dunlap, as well as Bob Dylan’s band from the "Blood on the Tracks" sessions.
I have released four full length albums on Eclectone (listed below). More info at