Martha Spencer – Wonderland
This collection gets off to a quirky start with “Wonderland,” but Martha Spencer comes from the Appalachian school of vocals more famously recognized by singers such as Iris DeMent & Gillian Welch. However, despite the strangeness to urban ears, Ms. Spencer asserts herself quite well.
Hailing from Virginia her voice has a pure mountain tone especially when accompanied by banjos, mandolins & acoustic guitars. You can’t really commercialize Appalachian music like you can country music – because its entire precision, like bluegrass, is based on its vintage-inspired authenticity.
It’s this quality that makes the Americana of it attractive. It may be based on European folk music, but this music’s filtered through a strictly Americana colander. The songs for the most part are story songs with themes within the lifestyle they lead; the family values they live by the traditions they’ve passed down.
“Banks of New River,” features honky-tonk singer Luke Bell & the duet is like a bruised ballad with its melancholy melody, never diluted by the performance or overcooked by production. Glittering fragments of fiddle lay out more mood than groove.
Songs like this are woven slowly & I always found women’s voices rich in an Appalachian song tradition. They ache, they soar, they emphasize nicely & are often exuberant.
Produced by Martha (guitar/banjo/bass) with Wesley Easter the 16-cut, 52-minute CD Wonderland Drops Sept 2–Independent) has a mix of covers, gospel-flavored handclapping church songs with a Dolly Parton zeal, but despite all this the pure mountain sound dominates. The mainstream zeal bows to the emotional heft of meadow breezes and not beer-scented pubs.
The only issue is the cover — seems holiday oriented with the colors & snow. It may be confused with being a Christmas CD. The CD’s other images are quite appealing as an Appalachian-oriented showcase.
“Come Home, Virginia Rose,” sounds almost Emmylou Harris-inspired. Followed by a cover of Lee Hazelwood’s affirming “Summer Wine,” — a minor duet hit for Nancy Sinatra (& Lee) back in the 60s. Nice choice. Martha provides banjo & the Hazelwood-inspired deep vocal imitation is excellent by Kyle Dean Smith (guitar/bass/cello banjo).
“Hesitation Blues,” is a charmer with Luke returning to sing with Martha. Sounds like it was recorded in the 1940s with its low bellowing bass, the fiddle saws delightfully.
Players – Jamie Collins (bass/vocals), Abby “The Spoon Lady” Roach (spoons/saw), the Legendary Ingramettes – Almeta Ingram Miller (lead/harmony) with Carrie Ann Jackson & Cheryl Maria Yancey (harmony), Alex Leach (banjo/harmony/guitar), Brett Morris (banjo), Jonathan Ferrell (vocals/banjo), Cary Morin (guitar), Joel Savoy & Billy Hurt Jr. (fiddles), Lucas Pasley (fiddle/vocals), Dudley Connell & Alice Gerrard (vocals), Matt Kinman (mandolins) & Leon Frost (percussion/chimes).
Highlights: “Walking In Jerusalem,” “Virginia Creeper Line,” “Enchantress,” “Wind and Rain,” “You’ve Rambled Too Long” & “Creekfield Woman.”
Photo courtesy: Christy Baird. CD @ Bandcamp + https://www.marthaspencermusic.com/
Enoy our earlier premiere here: Video Premiere: Martha Spencer “Enchantress“