Rebecca Martin
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Rebecca Martin


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The best kept secret in music


"Appreciating Life's Mixed Emotions"

Appreciating Life's Mixed Emotions

People Behave Like Ballads'
Rebecca Martin

Rebecca Martin's last album, "Middlehope," a collection of standards and songs by other composers, suggested a strong musical personality with an intuitive undercurrent: Ms. Martin's mannerisms didn't seem indebted to any jazz singer in particular. Her arrangements used jazz as a starting place, with players from New York's jazz scene like Kurt
Rosenwinkel and Bill McHenry, and pointed toward a more widely appealing form of pop.

It was no coincidence that among the songs she covered was "One Flight Down," by Jesse Harris, which was also recorded the same year by Norah Jones on her record "Come Away With Me." Ms. Martin used to be in Once Blue, a band she led with Mr. Harris, before Norahmania changed the landscape for any singer-songwriter with a jazz background.

Two years later, we have "People Behave Like Ballads." (It comes out next week from MaxJazz.) The songs are all hers this time, and nearly every one carries a chilling mule-kick, originating either in Ms. Martin's lyrics, her singing or the arrangements of her modest band. It's a facile comparison to put these songs against Norah Jones's, but at least it helps to orient them in the new landscape. Those of the more popular singer turn love into a pleasant abstraction. Ms. Martin's have more depth, darkness and traction; they deal with emotion closer to the complicated way it actually occurs.

On this long, focused, slow-moving album, Ms. Martin keeps getting at the feeling that very little in life makes sense. "Even if you choose to go on your separate way/ I'm hoping you'll be back/ here the same but different" is one way of putting it (in "Here the Same but Different"); other phrases scattered through the record, like "you're not what you say you are" and "the truth doesn't matter" and "I don't mind that I'm not afraid," are further iterations of essentially the same principle. These songs are ruled by cryptic storytelling, so that you never get the full outline of the relationships she's writing about. In the end it's a record about living through paradox, choosing to appreciate mixed emotions rather than building one-sided certainties of oblivion or hopelessness around them.

Ms. Martin plays guitar as well, and a lot of these songs sound written around that instrument, suggested by the harmonies of sliding parallel chords; every once in a while there's a hint of Joni Mitchell, who has composed similarly. But she doesn't write the same song over and over.

One song, "If Only," gathers strength around a drone, gradually widening with two electric guitars, organ, saxophone, bass and drums; another, "Gone Like the Season Does," keeps making fresh chord changes, stepping sequentially from one level to another.

Some of the musicians from "Middlehope" have returned for this more mature record, including Mr. McHenry and the guitarist Ben Monder; one quietly devastating little song, "It Won't Be Long," has Richard Julian as co-writer.

The relaxed self-possession in the songs and in Ms. Martin's dusky, middle-range voice, which stretches out on vowels for a while before the vibrato kicks in, suggests that she may not particularly care whose camp she's put in, or who she's compared to.
- The New York Times

"People Behave Like Ballads"

Some people behave like ballads and some people act like children and some people live lives like operas and some people bounce through their days like free improvisation and some people do things like scat singing and tap dancing and some people are as straightforward as plainsong and a very few people perform like epics and some people exist in trance and some people don’t do much of anything at all and resemble quarter-note rests connected through serial silence. But giving Maine poet Robert T. Tristram his due, let’s buy into his conceit and sit back and allow singer Rebecca Martin, also from Maine and an admirer of Tristram’s, to expand upon it throughout the entire length of a CD as she puts words and music to the idea and thus comes across as a noncategorizable observer of human behavior and a fancier of the predicaments that people can get themselves into as they behave, some badly and some well. And for those reasons, Rebecca Martin—as the wife of bassist Larry Grenadier and tireless worker along with Charles Lloyd’s wife, Dorothy Darr, in raising funds for Billy Higgins’ much-needed liver transplant and in active pursuit of her own career in the midst of New York City’s jazz scene and still developing a sound quite different from anyone else’s—has come up with something quite different on People Behave Like Ballads. - Jazz Review

"Rebecca Martin/People Behave Like Ballads"

Hard writing poet Martin is so far ahead of the curve that she had a band with Jesse Harris when Norah Jones was still trying to find a way out of Texas. With hard core left of center writing that might not be for everyone, this is the kind of set that will make a believer out of anyone that comes in contact with it. A very creative outing that demands to be heard. - Midwest Record ReCap

"People Behave Like Ballads - CD Review"

Rebecca Martin – "People Behave Like Ballads" (Maxjazz):

I have heard the next Norah Jones, and her name is Rebecca Martin.

Like Jones, Martin has a fresh new acoustic-electric sound that straddles the borders of folk, jazz and pop. On her new album with the terrific title, "People Behave Like Ballads," Martin makes beguiling music that's deceptively complex. With a voice that often sounds like a young, pre-cigarettes Joni Mitchell, Martin sounds wise and warm as she sings about "the road (of life) that twists and sways." It's a road of lost love: "Will you ever come to trust/In the passing of time/So there'll be room for both of us/Here the same but different." It's also a road of found love: "These bones are yours alone," she sings. Like Jones, these often understated songs take a while to stick to you. But when they do – and they will – they'll never leave.

Steve Israel
- Times Herald Record

"A Singer and Her Band Find a Place at the Edge of Jazz"

A Singer and Her Band Find a Place at the Edge of Jazz


A lot of negligible pop music gets passed off as "jazzy"; a
couple of diminished chords is all you need. But the singer
Rebecca Martin, who seems to have the outer sensibility of
a pop singer and the inner resources of a jazz musician,
can get close to jazz, and both sides of the equation make
out well.

Performing at the Living Room on Wednesday night, Ms.
Martin had with her a band that beamed out a sound similar
to the music on her last album, "Middlehope" (Fresh Sound):
tenor saxophone, guitar, bass, drums. By now that sound has
grown familiar; it's an empathetic, affective, folky mist
with jazz filigree, and Bill Frisell (at times), Cassandra
Wilson, Ms. Martin, and Norah Jones all inhabit various
corners of that world.

Ms. Martin's soprano voice recalls the range Joni Mitchell
had in her younger years, and she has a similar sense of
throwing her voice up into high areas, making it sound
effortful; her intonation, however, is faultless. She mixed
in melody-rich tunes like "A Fine Spring Morning" (which
Blossom Dearie recorded in the late 50's), and Lionel
Hampton and Johnny Mercer's standard "Midnight Sun," with
her own material, showing a natural leaning toward songs
about solitary impressions. In short, she demonstrated what
a post-hippie version of the Cafe Carlyle might sound like.

At the Living Room - where she will perform again on Oct.
16 and 30 - she played acoustic guitar with the band, which
included the tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry and the
guitarist Ben Monder, both significant within New York's
jazz scene; the arrangements were tight and careful, and
there was practically no soloing.

If it was pop, it was pop that only a jazz musician could
have thought of. "One Flight Down" was a bare-bones duo of
voice and saxophone. (The song also appears on Norah
Jones's recent album; Ms. Martin used to be in the band
Once Blue with Jesse Harris, who writes and plays guitar
for Ms. Jones now.) "Midnight Sun" was arranged for a
voice-saxophone-guitar trio and Ms. Martin's own "Lonesome
Town" was as slow as midsummer air. Everything was spare
and still flexible; Mr. McHenry's soft, strong saxophone
tone, playing soft, edited-down accompaniments to Ms.
Martin's vocal lines, worked as a complement and sometimes
a foil. It was mellow, mature music.
- The New York Times

"New Release Spotlight"

November, 2004
New Release Spotlight
Rebecca Martin
“People Behave Like Ballads” (MAXJAZZ)
By Bill Demain

Rebecca Martin is a vinyl artist in a plastic world. Though her new release, ‘People Behave Like Ballads’, is pressed on a compact disc, there’s no disguising its true identity. It is an LP, a long player, in the best sense of that old-fashioned term. It invites you in. It moves at a slow-grooved pace. It unfolds like a satisfying conversation with a good friend, sharing its secrets in a confidential tone. Think of it as the ‘Before Sunset’ of singer-songwriter albums.

“This record is very personal, very intimate,” says Martin. “And I think that comes from slowness. As the title suggests, a lot of the songs are ballads. I love things to be slow, and I love that challenge of trying to listen more. And I like having that space in the songs.”

Space is an important part of Martin’s writing. On standout songs such as ‘It’s Only Love,’ ‘Here The Same But Different’ and ‘Lonesome Town,’ what’s left unspoken between lines is often as powerful as what’s being said. A recent NEW YORK TIMES review described her approach to writing as ‘cryptic storytelling,’ a phrase that Martin agrees with.

“I don’t necessarily think I’m writing a story in a linear way. I think what I’m expressing is a feeling. The melody dictates the words. I like singing a melody over and over to see what words pop out of the melody, and to construct it
that way. A friend told me one time with regard to my music, ‘we remember moments in our lifetime. We don’t remember hours.’ And I love that idea. All of the things that were happening at the time these songs were written were very complex, and with many different sides. That’s true with everything. You cannot sum up anything. So what I think these songs are, they’re feelings and they’re vignettes; they’re moments of something that I think is very positive and comforting. They’re songs for me that represent a part of my spirit that keeps on chugging.”

Born in Maine and raised on a diet of standards and show tunes, Martin’s professional career began in New York City in the early ‘90’s, when she formed the group Once Blue with Jesse Harris (who would eventually pen most of Norah Jones’ debut). Their 1995 self-titled record on EMI is a small masterpiece of jazzy pop, worth seeking out for the stellar writing and Martin’s lilting vocal performances.

“What I got from Jesse was enormous,” she says. “I really feel a deep gratitude for that experience and for having him in my life. It was unbelievably fortunate that we found each other – big turning point in my writing.”

When Once Blue split, Martin took the plunge as a solo artist, teaching herself guitar. For such a latecomer to the instrument, she has developed a strikingly original style, buoyed by gorgeous open tunings. “I was looking for certain sounds in the harmony,” she says. “I don’t always know what I’m playing, which isn’t so uncommon. I’m just using my ear to create sounds and, I suppose, my intuition to compose form in a way that’s agreeable. Open tunings helped me to get to a place a little bit quicker that is much more interesting harmonically.”

Building on the success of two solo records, Thoroughfare (1999) and Middlehope (2002), Martin has attracted some of New York’s finest musicians into her orbit, including Steve Cardenas, Bill McHenry and Peter Rende. “The musicians are as important to the music as the songs themselves. It’s just bringing the songs in, keeping everything open and letting the musicians create what they want to create. That’s how I’ve gotten this enormous gift of the music I have now, through those relationships.”

As she looks forward to touring behind ‘People Behave Like Ballads’, Martin reflects on her journey as a songwriter. “It’s all completely mysterious. Even if you have a song that pops out of you in five minutes or 20 minutes, that’s really great. But you know what? You still have to work. The most important part of it all is working hard at it. Without that, you lose your flow and your forward motion and your interest in being curious and your interest in growing. It’s about being open and going out there and doing the best you can, and doing as much as you can so that you’re current in your life and your growth.”
- Performing Songwriter


- Top 10 AAA Radio
- AAA Radio
MIDDLEHOPE (Fresh Sound)
- #30 on the JAZZ Charts
- New release. Formats include: JAZZ, AAA, COLLEGE and AMERICANA.


Feeling a bit camera shy


Rebecca Martin
People Behave Like Ballads

Cut and paste this link to view Rebecca's ECARD from MAXJAZZ:

“When I look out in the audience from the stage and see a person in touch with something true, I know the music is doing what it should be a public service.”

In the beginning, bards went from village to village, bringing folks the news of the day with their ballads. The oldest Anglo-Saxon term for this singer of words was “scop,” which means “shaper.” In other words, it was up to the balladeer to “shape the world” for those who cared to listen. Not all of those Medieval songs were about battles, about castles lost and kings dying. There were also songs that spoke of love and hope, of life and death, of joy and despair. In a harsh world, “Carpe diem” or “Seize the day,” became a favorite motif. Listening to the words of the traveling bard, any common villager, any man or woman or child would soon realize that they were not alone with their feelings, that others had the same thoughts hidden in their hearts and minds.

That’s how it started, with music as a public service. And yet, down through the years, and with the advent of technology and marketing, music often loses the purity those early storytellers - those “shapers”- meant it to have. In the new millennium, we seem to have forgotten what it was all about in the first place. Rebecca Martin is one who remembers: “Music should be a public service.”

Rebecca left her native Rumford Point, Maine, behind and made the big move to New York City in the spring of 1990. It was there that she met and formed a band with a musician and songwriter named Jesse Harris. They called the band Once Blue, and what happened next was one of those too-good-to-be-true show business sagas. In 1995, Davitt Sigerson, the newly-named president of EMI Records, had just left a nightclub in the city and was headed home. When he noticed an EMI limousine parked in front of the venue next door, he decided to drop in, see if anything special was happening. Something was: Rebecca Martin was on stage that night. When Sigerson heard her sing, he approached the stage and signed them on the spot.

The group’s self-titled debut drew rave reviews, and before long Rebecca and the band was touring with Shawn Colvin, Emmylou Harris, The Lilith Fair, and others. Unfortunately, a 1997 restructuring of EMI’s parent company incorporated EMI Records into Virgin and Capitol Records and Once Blue became a part of history. Jesse Harris went on to write songs for other artists and last year, won a GRAMMY for his song, “I Don’t Know Why,” which was recorded by Norah Jones.

While the big city might be the place to work and perform, after ten years there, it was no longer the kind of life Rebecca craved. So she packed up and headed upstate, back to those small-town sensibilities she had left behind in Maine. With nature and animals and the best people around her, Martin began to concentrate again on matters of heart and soul. By 1998, she had written and produced a solo recording, Thoroughfare, and soon after was signed again to a label, this time with Fresh Sounds/New Talent (Barcelona, Spain).

In 2002 when she released a collection of standards she produced titled Middlehope, it was selected by THE NEW YORK TIMES for its annual Top Ten Best Jazz Albums of the year. That she was an artist who couldn’t be pigeonholed became obvious to the critics who praised her work. “This is a fresh jazz singer set loose in folk-pop, or vice versa; you never quite know which...and both sides of the equation come out well,” wrote NEW YORK TIMES’ music critic Ben Ratliff. “Her soprano voice recalls the range Joni Mitchell had in her younger years,” he added. In another of the many rave reviews Middlehope garnered, critic Phil DiPietro wrote that Rebecca Martin “is an incredible talent, a remarkable spirit, a true artist of substance.”

It was Middlehope that got the attention of Richard McDonnell, the founder of MAXJAZZ Records. McDonnell came to a New York City showcase on a summer afternoon last June and expecting to hear standards, was surprised to discover Martin had written all of her material. After performing some of those original songs for McDonnell that day, Martin was offered a contract to record for MAXJAZZ, a respected jazz label that had begun branching out to singer/songwriters.

The result is the newly released People Behave Like Ballads, a genre-bending collection that will come as no surprise to Rebecca’s fans. She has always cast aside labeling. “I don’t believe categories serve the fans well,” she says. “Categories are marketing tools, and don’t lend themselves to creative expression. That expression is important to me and encouraged me to sign with MAXJAZZ.”

With People Behave Like Ballads, Rebecca Martin explores the human condition, its relationships, its strengths and its vulnerabilitie