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
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.