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People Behave Like Ballads by Rebecca Martin

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.

What she has come up with is a CD, seemingly simple and direct, that combines astute ironic lyrics with unpretentious melodies that tell the short stories of people’s experiences, rising from the particular to the universal. At first glance, there seems to be guitar overkill, for Martin herself plays guitar.... as do Ben Monder and Steve Cardenas. But all three contribute to the extroverted sound she wants to achieve as she accompanies herself, one solos and one plays rhythm, all of which attains a folk song-like atmosphere combining wryness, abstract thematic intentions and everyday details. Like Joni Mitchell or before her, though, Martin, injects the harmonies and phrasing of jazz even as she sings without pretense or embellishment. Indeed, contemporary comparisons to Martin lead to more obscure singers like Susanne Abbuehl or Annette Peacock, who combine the mysteries of poetry with song.

So what does Martin sing about? Well, she sings about unrequited forgiveness: "In a world where no one/Seems to be thinking/Keep your thoughts warm and forgiving." She sings of, not surprisingly, love: "Don’t be afraid of what you’re feeling for me/Because this mess we’ve made is only love." She sings of despair: "It’s mostly quiet here but not today./What will become of me?" She sings of loneliness: "In my best dress and make-up/To meet the night./I can hardly reach the sink./Everything’s cock-eyed/To the drunk that I’m turning into." She sings of ambivalence: "What’s yours is soon coming./It’s tragic, but beautiful." She sings of the human condition as humans conveniently behave like ballads to the greatest possible extent within the sixty minutes contained on the disk.

Just when it appeared that MAXJAZZ’s Vocal Series was predictable as it raised the profiles of deserving jazz singers without major-label contracts, it has gone outside of the box to stretch the accepted wisdom’s definition of jazz by presenting Rebecca Martin’s individualistic music, on which she behaves like an artist who is developing her own identity separate from that of any other singer.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Rebecca Martin
  • CD Title: People Behave Like Ballads
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: MAXJAZZ
  • Tracks: Lead Us, Here The Same But Different, These Bones Are Yours Alone, If Only, I’d Like To Think It’s Coming, When The Rain Comes, It Won’t Be Long, Learning, East Andover, Old Familiar Song, Lonesome Town, I’m Not Afraid, Gone Like The Season Does, I’m The One
  • Musicians: Rebecca Martin (vocals, guitar); Steve Cardenas, Ben Monder (guitar); Bill McHenry (tenor saxophone); Peter Rende (piano, Fender Rhodes, organ, pedal steel, mandolin, background vocals); Matt Penman (bass); Darren Beckett (drums)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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