This week’s pick: Charlotte Martin
If you are not a singer/songwriter fan, like me, then deciding on whether to give Charlotte Martin a try may be quite the daunting one. After all, the already over-crowded genre is home to hundreds of cringe inducing hacks, bubble gum drivel, clichés and over-hyped “artists” (Ryan Adams, Vanessa Carlton, Michelle Branch, Jackson Brown, and Paula Cole are a few that come to mind). But I assure you that the sonic risk is well worth it; if you stay the course, eventually you will find light at the end of the tunnel, and it is here that you will stumble across someone like CharMar (as her devoted fan-base calls her).
Since making her way to the music scene in 1998, CharMar has built up an incredibly large and diverse discography, including several EP’s, numerous collaborations and one-offs, and six full length albums. With so much available material to sample, where should you start? For ‘gem in the rough’ type tunes, be sure to explore her roots as an emerging singer/pianist by sampling her first release Mystery, Magic, and Seeds (1998)* or its follow-up One Girl Army (2001)* , with several of these early cuts being popular staples of her current live sets. Or there’s On Your Shore (see below), which expanded her sound, upgrading her quiet meditations into crisp, cathedral filling epics. Or if experimentation is more your speed, then be sure to experience her purest and most intoxicating release Stromata (2007), where Charlotte runs amok in the audio spectrum; stacking layers of world-beat, rock, electro, tinges of dark-wave and even a touch of opera, with her vocal/piano styling holding the reigns, resulting in one of the most awe-inspiring experimental albums of the past decade. With her latest opus Piano Trees, Charlotte engages her finely tuned piano stylings to create a deep, room filling atmosphere which aim to put one at ease and offer glimmers of inspiration with each floating chord struck. Life is full of small risks, and Charlotte Martin has proven again and again that she is one worth taking.
* Both Mystery, Magic, and Seeds and One Girl Army are damn near impossible to find, with the former being out of print and the latter never having being released. However, there is an EP with re-recorded selections from OGA. See Charlotte’s discography on her site.
On Your Shore (2004)
After serious thought, I highly recommend my first full introduction to her musical universe, her major label debut On Your Shore. Sweeping arrangements, along with glittering high-end production work (courtesy of Ken Andrews), help to highlight the lush, piano driven songs that frame her elegant vocals. Stand out tracks include: “Sweet Chariot”, the wounded beauty of the title track “On Your Shore”, and the piano rock out of “Steele” (my personal favorite). Simply put, this album is a piece of audio beauty; above and beyond what a major label debut from an artist should be.
Best 8 songs for Atmosphere
8. “Sweet Chariot” (from On Your Shore)- Sitting on a park bench, thinking of all that could have been, and feeling sorry for yourself.
7. “Four Walls” (from Stromata)- Locking your door and flash-dancing away your frustrations.
6. “Cloudbusting” (from Reproductions)- Missing someone that you love, in all of its heart wrenching agony.
5. “Shrink” (from Rarities .6)- Helping you to pretend that only Mondays at work suck.
4. “A Beautiful Spot Out In The Skyline” (from Piano Trees)–Staring off into space with a glass of wine and reflecting, in montage form, of course.
3. “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” (from Reproductions)- Pretending that Pearl Jam didn’t write shitty songs.
2. “(I’m Normal) Please Date Me” (from Orphans)- Not feeling so bad for looking at photos of your ex, or saving her # in your phone, or driving by her house once in a while, or…
1. “Pills” (from Stromata)- Have I lost my mind? Am I insane? Yes… you are, and now you can bask in your off-the-rocker glory while you talk to yourself.
May your sonic journey be a trip into a whole new world of discovery.