Friday, August 06, 2010

Crow by Martin Lennon

"Crow is an album of songs drenched in emotion – lots of pain and misery, sure, but also joy, passion and love. These songs are among the first I've written in over thirty years, and they have the added weight of a couple of decades of living and performance behind them. As a former member of a travelling party/covers band, this is my first album – perhaps not such a big deal, but as a 50 year old man I'm proud to be stepping off 'on the road' alone for the first time, as well as being somewhat surprised that it's taken me this long to decide to do it."

So writes Martin Lennon when talking about his debut release, Crow. And yes, he should be proud.

Sometimes I am lucky enough to stumble on new music which is so unbelievable, I knee before the Gods of the Internet and shout "Thank you!" to my laptop and the heavens.

That's the way I felt about Crow. Quite frankly, if this were twenty years ago and Martin had a traditional record label, he would probably win a Grammy as singer/songwriter of the year. Not that winning a Grammy is an indication of great music -- it never was -- but I say this for the sole reason that Martin's music is so brilliant that it crosses over into many genres. Fans of everyone from Leonard Cohen to Tom Waits to Bob Dylan to Savoy Brown and ZZ Top to J.J. Cale type country western/blues will find something to love on every track of this recording. There are fourteen songs, and not a bad one in the bunch. Because Martin does not tell you in his above mentioned blurb, his primary career was as a music critic and I will spill the beans here for you only because as a writer, I was interested in how he would do with lyrics. Well. Try stark, haunting, and perfect for each particular melody. They are Dylanesque, but perhaps even more like Leonard Cohen...or maybe just uniquely Martin. And he was kind enough to include them on his website.

Let me also add that he has surrounded himself with first class musicians for this endeavor. I was not familiar with any of the players involved, but I intend to check each of them out further, that's for sure. On absolutely brilliant trumpet is Charles Dearness; the bassist is amazing, too, and his name is Andy Gilmour, Sarah Anderson, she of the beautiful voice, does backing vocals, and of course we have Martin on guitar, bass, vocals, percussion and programming.

Here's a track by track review:

Magpie – excellent choice for the first song, it showcases Martin's great guitar work and deep, bluesy voice that sounds more like the Mississipi Delta than his native Scotland. He could seriously duet with Dr. John or Leon Russell. I even got a Stephen Stills vibe but then it hit me that the melody is very reminiscent of Traffic's Pearly Queen if it were performed by Tom Waits. Here's a taste of the lyrics:

"I’m just a big fat bird, with a long black tail
I want to steal your love away
I’m going to grab that diamond from your delicate hands
I’m going to steal your love away"

Feels so good – very bluesy, great harmonies with Sarah Anderson and Charles Dearness on trumpet. Again, the placement of this tune as #2 on the album feels very, very right:

"These blues don’t take this pain away
These blues don’t pay my bills
These blues don’t help me overcome
And they don’t give me thrills"

Crow – Having heard the stripped down version last year on Martin's MySpace, this song is the first I fell in love with. Again, dark lyrics that go with the melody and it's without a doubt one of those songs you love on first listen. It gets under your skin, and Martin probably knows this is his best, strongest song – it’s the title of the CD. Or, maybe he's the Crow.

"Sometimes I feel just like a crow
I want to dig at someone’s words
And feel them roll around my beak
Until I know exactly how they think"

Big Black Cloud – Another dark song with absolutely awesome guitar work.

"You broke my heart, you broke my will
And you left me there for dead
You lied to me, you lied barefaced
With every little thing you said"

It's interesting to me how the lyrics move from hopeless to hopeful over the course of the album. Since Martin mentions they were written over a thirty year time period, you can feel the tone shift as he finds joy in both the decision to finally pursue his musical career and perhaps a true love? You'll see what I mean in a minute.

Blue Eyes – This is pure Leon Redbone without the sometimes annoying inflection and really, vintage Tom Waits. Once again, Charles Dearness on trumpet just blows me away.

"Your blue eyes, as they look at me
Blue eyes make a child of me
Blue eyes look and see my soul
Pretty blue, blue eyes"

Easy Way to Fall – This is Savoy Brown meets ZZ Top – or the way ZZ Top wishes they sounded. Are you hip to Savoy Brown? You should be. For me to give Martin a Savoy Brown comparison is high praise.

"You know I want to live
I never want to die at all
But if I must, I want to find
An easy way to fall
I try to never tell a lie
The few I tell are small
So that if I ever slip, I’ll have
An easy way to fall"

Butterfly Girl – probably the most country western tune but without the hokey stuff and cheesy lyrics. Instead, Martin sings:

"Little green shoes on your tiny feet
And your curls and ribbons and that fairytale dress
You’re a butterfly girl in a hard cruel world
And you can fly"

Fingers in your Hair – this is a love song. Plain and simple. Bare guitar and vocals and heartfelt lyrics that sucks the air out of your lungs.

"I hold your hand against my heart
I hold your hand against my heart
I hold your hand against my beating heart
And your love, your love makes me strong"

I Always Knew
– Quite frankly, this is a classic. I can picture Harry Connick, Jr. singing this. Contrary to what you think, coming from a rocker chick like me, this is not a slam but a high compliment because whether you like him or not, Harry would take this song to #1, it would be the best song he ever covered, but I know I’d always prefer Martin’s version.

"I knew what I should do
What I should do with you

Kiss You – When I heard the first few notes, I got a definite Can’t Find My Way Home (Eric Clapton and Blind Faith) vibe, but it quickly turned into something else – sort of still like that but sung by Tom Waits with haunting guitar and tambourine complimenting…

"Don’t want to make you hide your face
Or dance the rain out of the skies
Don’t want to watch you as you fall
Into somebody else’s lies"

Map of the World – Gorgeous, gorgeous song and so Leonard Cohen it’s ridiculous but Martin's musical delivery is better. This is genius.

"You gave to me, once,
A map of the world
I travelled its lines
and its contours and folds
and the faded-ink place names
and symbols and signs
and all from the depths of my mind

Old Heart – Erm…what was I saying about the other songs on this CD? Maybe this is my favorite? How did this man not grow up in the deep South? This is the blues, baby.

"I’ve got a hard old heart, I’ve got a hard old heart
It’s been broken and beaten up too many times
Filled up with anger and darkness and grime
I don’t want this hard old heart
I don’t want this hard old heart"

Ribbons and Bows – Oh boy, here’s another top hit for Harry Connick, Jr. The horn in this perfect. This is probably the most commercial song on the CD but does that mean I don’t like it? Hell, no! It’s awesome. It's the kind of song that makes me smile and bop around the house.

"All of that misery and all of that pain
What does it matter and what does it mean
We either die young or we live till we’re old
Looking for ribbons and bows made of gold"

Actually, I'm going to reference Savoy Brown again - these lyrics would fit perfectly to Needle and Spoon.

Days to Come – The absolute perfect last song. Gorgeous melody but it’s the uplifting, full of love lyrics, on obvious tribute to his new sweetheart. Or maybe just happy coincidence?

"I will walk through this garden
I will follow you anywhere
I will walk through this garden
All these days to come

I will walk beside you always
And hold my head up high
I will walk beside you always
All these days to come

All these days
These days gone by
They all brought me to here

I will walk this holy path
Beside you hand in hand
I will walk this sacred path
All these days to come

All these days
These days gone by
They all brought me to you"

So Martin Lennon is my official "find" of 2010. And at age fifty, his life is not half over, he’s just at the beginning of Part II and it’s going to be one hell of a grand finale.

You can pick up Crow at the following:


Martin's website (both download and CD)

And have a listen over at Reverb Nation.

In this ridiculous world of American Idol and Justin Bieber and Lady GaG, it's important to support independent musicians. And people like Martin Lennon are a rare and wonderful find.