American History

And a bonus lounge number!

It's tempting to label Martin's Folly "an American original," as hackneyed

as that term is. It fits only if we acknowledge that true American

originals might have their own voice -- but it's one in which you can

hear the voices of all who've come before.

Rarely does a band explicitly echo its ancestors without sounding

derivative. Martin's Folly manage to call to mind Neil Young, Bob Dylan,

Otis Redding and a dozen other names, but they never sound like a copycat.

In fact, within the first two songs on Man, It's Cold, Martin's

Folly pay homage to Dylan and gently satirize him. The harmonica

on "Two Times a Day" would have fit right in on Dylan's early albums,

while the vocal on the third verse of "Throwing Stone"

(RealAudio excerpt) mimics Dylan's wheezy delivery circa Blood on the Tracks.

Ultimately, Martin's Folly are most reminiscent of The Band, but more

for the ethos than the actual sound. The Band made music that at once

sounded completely fresh and as old as the hills. But the songs are so

solid on Man, It's Cold that making too many direct comparisons

undercuts the fact that Martin's Folly found a way to cobble together 40

years of influences into a sound that's not entirely new.

Man, It's Cold is mostly comprised of midtempo grooves, with

occasional raucous bursts of energy and poignant balladry. Chris Gray's

vocals on the title track are painfully heartbreaking, and "I'm Hardly

Pleased" mines a mournful lode that only a few bands manage to dig. Both

songs showcase Gray's deceptively simple lyrics. On the surface, "Man, It's

Cold" (RealAudio excerpt) simply describes the midnight chill -- the blanket's gone, the

window's froze -- but the bridge's cry of "I don't care what you might say/

People shouldn't have to live this way" suggests something deeper and more

troubling, whether it's financial struggle, disintegrating romance or both.

"New Friend" settles into a minor-key shuffle as Gray drops into his

lower vocal register for a grim exercise in longing. The band throws a

curveball on "Here Lies a Fool," a lounge song in the Burt Bacharach

tradition, complete with trumpet solo. Though it lacks the intensity of

Elvis Costello's collaboration with Bacharach, it succeeds just as

unexpectedly.

But the downers wouldn't be as effective without rave-ups like "She Comes

Around," a bar-band sing-along; and "She Comes Around"

(RealAudio excerpt), the kind of country-rock road song that guarantees

the speedometer will be reading 85 by the time the tune's done.

Martin's Folly also know their way around Memphis-style soul, as attested to

by "Throwing Stone," which alternates between slow electric piano on the

verses and a horn-driven chorus. The horns, provided in part by producer and

Bottle Rocket Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, also add punch to "The Specter,"

especially the song's chaotic, dissonant end.

Man, It's Cold isn't a great record and Martin's Folly haven't

written their masterpiece yet -- there's nothing like "The Weight" or

"Powderfinger" or "Tangled Up in Blue" here. But you get the sense that

they've got it in them, and that's a rare feeling.