Amy Martin,
To You
(self-produced, 2000)

Upon first hearing "Georgia, Late November," the opening track to Missoula, Montana-based Amy Martin's To You CD, it's easy to think of the Indigo Girls. It could be the song's setting, its political statement (it concerns a protest against the U.S. Army School of the Americas), or even the acoustic guitar and mandolin rippling lightly in the background. It comes as no surprise that Martin lists Amy Ray and Emily Saliers as two of her "admirable role models" on the CD's thank-you list.

With its light melody, "Georgia, Late November" is not an angry song; instead, it is just as inspirational and full of fervent hope as Martin felt the music at the Georgia protest was. "Miss America," the only other song on the album which might be deemed particularly political, takes a slower pace. Michael Blessing's piano tagteams with Janet Haarvig's cello (Martin plays acoustic guitar on this piece) to create a contemplative mood about the selling of Miss America, "our virtuous virgin, our loving mother, our favorite whore," the woman who doesn't seem to see that she been "sold on their game." "She buys the potions, says all the spells, but still hates what she sees" clearly transcends the actual woman who wins the beauty pageant and moves on to describe all of the millions of women who clamor to be "like the women in the magazines."

The other material on the album generally concerns personal relationships and self-examination. Haarvig's cello and Martin's searching vocals that create bridges between verses enhance "Bitterroot," which juxtaposes coyotes and the rural American west with its narrator's search for herself. "Horizon," perhaps the album's most emotionally evocative number, again uses cello, mandolin, guitar and gentle drums to create stepping stones as the narrator climbs towards her survival.

Martin, however, limits her use of singer-songwriter angst and personal examination. She lets herself drift into blues territory with "Let it Go," which gives her more of a chance to show off her skilled guitar playing and strong vocal range. She switches mood and genre again later on "Not Anymore." "Yeah, you can just sit there/You can rot for all I care," she sings with a slightly gritty growl in her throat.

"To You," the title track, closes the album. With lyrics taken from a Walt Whitman poem, Martin becomes the singer-songwriter again, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. It's a little surprising she didn't choose to use Haarvig's cello for emphasis, but the simple instrumentation works and allows her voice to soar instead.

Martin's debut is impressive. Although the cover artwork, a woman standing in a country field aiming an arrow, doesn't seem to match the CD's content (the backside's photo of Martin in patched jeans playing her guitar is reassuring), the music redeems the questionable booklet cover choice. While Montana coffeehouses are fine, it would be nice if this release allows Martin to hit the North American folk festival circuit in a big-time way.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]

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