Daphne Lee Martin is the voice of futuristic folk-rock/ alternative-roots music. With the first strains of the low-hum electronics and voice filtered through a roomful of echoes Daphne dabbles in electronica with what sounds like possible traditional melodies and approaches. You can hear the disciplined vocals as if she is singing her heart out in a deep well. If you can get passed the electronics and listen with an open mind there is some very interesting edginess to her Americana.
It’s as if a chef were to say to you “no, you can’t put that ingredient in there it doesn’t go…it’s not part of the mix…” yet, you being the defiant artist — you do sprinkle in the “offending spice” and hocus pocus it does taste wonderful.
If you’re a traditionalist, an aficionado of the true blue folk idiom this will take some getting used to. An acquired taste. If you close your ears to the well-intentions in this music — you deny a new appetizing flavor your ears could possibly savor. Daphne Lee Martin has risked to cook up something invigorating. Just remember, only a first class chef dares push the boundaries of old recipes.
“Little Birds,” is an excellent introduction. With its varied musical colors running together you would feel it’s an abomination of the music form. But it’s not — it’s daring, it’s challenging, it’s trying to appeal to ears that are younger and may not be in tune with the traditional banjo, acoustic guitar and down home on the back porch ideal.
“The Book of Love,” continues the approach – skimming the surface and teasing the “what if…” of this musical exploration. There are church-organ dabs, skittering drum rolls, and an other-worldly Daphne Lee Martin voice. If you listen carefully, the lyrics are wonderfully folk-oriented but this time in a World music vein. The plucking strings are Oriental folk – yes, there is such a thing – and Daphne sprinkles this liberally throughout this song that has herky-jerky moments surrounded with melodic dashes. It’s like that dessert an expensive restaurant puts in front of you with that drizzle of chocolate or raspberry sauce. This is the sauce.
Daphne has written brilliant lyrics to this song – it could easily be covered by a Roseanne Cash or Emmylou Harris – if they have the imagination to “hear” its magic. It’s a song that could be like potato dumplings – you have to snatch it out of the boiling water while it’s hot.
Ah, now there is a banjo — being plucked and Daphne’s voice is now deeper, alluring and faithful. The bass is featured as the orphaned child – fuzzy and compelling. Yet, the melody moves along in a formal dark enchanting way. An electric fiddle weaves its way through the song, a muted cornet from a distant place tickles the ear , and the electronics actually play a tantalizing child-like role. “The Night We Fell In Love,” is a private recollection saturated in memories and as we all know, memories tend to come back to us at times in a fragmented way. This is the interpretation I got. Then, midway, a screech and children’s voices crowd the melody and may only point the way to a closer reminiscence when things were more exciting and bold. The drums are galloping good…the treated guitar is hot. Then, a dash of King Crimson-type backward finale. This is sushi for those who want something different.
“Make It Rain,” starts with soft piano notes, fuzzy lead guitar with an undercurrent of jazzy brass. This, to my ears, is Daphne’s finest vocal. Sexy, confident, sophisticated and provocative. It embraces the emotional drive that was made famous by 50’s and 60’s artists like Timi Yuro, Leslie Gore, Brenda Lee and Julie London. It has all that magic of angst, perfect inflection, a gritty retro-rock guitar solo backed by soul-city brass and lullaby-type piano. It all supports Daphne’s Connie Francis moments with 1920’s chanteuses Annette Hanshaw and Lee Morse artistry.
This was the type of song that couldn’t miss the top ten back in 1963. But, what makes this song refreshing, is that it’s not sung to capture that time – but, remind us that it was great and a young singer like Daphne Lee Martin has the pipes to make it fully realized once again. Anyone who is nostalgic will have a wide smile on their face when they listen to this. Anyone who doesn’t – will discover a whole new sophistication in vocalizing.
“More Flies With Honey,” squeezes out some dirty notes from a lead guitar and Daphne’s vocal is more 1920’s bawdy with 50’s instrumentation. She’s playful, has her vocalizing tease hammered down and the brass is the gasoline that propels this tune into a female version of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies or Royal Crown Revue. This is show-stopping music – pounding piano in the background, and Daphne simply seduces the musicians as they wind themselves around her voice. Excellent arrangement. Play this late at night when someone is getting ready to go to bed and they will dance throughout the boudoir alone or with their partner before their heads hit the pillow.
Daphne is obviously exploring the outer reaches of nostalgic melody and continues with the bright and sprightly “Smile at Perfect Strangers.” According to what I read, her earlier album “Moxie,” was the “hooker with a heart of gold” songs. Her new album “Frost,” is supposed to represent the instant sweetheart. This is Romantic-Americana and if it’s a new genre than Daphne has it locked up. The melody has its electronica but the sweetness is in its 1930’s approach and impeccable musicians.
Slowing the pace, “I Still Want You,” comes across with a new intensity – as Daphne shares vocals with a male vocalist and then a tight group of sax players fill the room with a tide of warm notes. This is an easily enjoyable tune – even your grandmother would appreciate. Daphne has a talent for singing in a retro manner that transcends the “old” and comes out of your speakers sounding fresh and new. I guess, a sweet apple in 1920 would taste the same as a sweet apple in 2015. Music is all about taste – and this is arranged with an enormous amount of good taste. The layers of instruments all strike their own memorable moment as this four-minute tune unwinds itself like a string on a top. Once that happens – the top goes spinning to everyone’s delight.
Daphne has sung in retro style, Americana, electronica – but, her closing song is proof positive that she has an enormous capacity for hot jazz. The band is scintillating – sharp, bright, with ambitious charts. The brass sparkles and then the brakes are applied – a shift into a more percussive penetrating and arousing jam. I love it when musicians do something that is unexpected and it’s exciting. This was a cool deviation into a whole different genre and it adds to the mystique that is the music of Daphne Lee Martin.
As progressive as this tune is it is danceable – it has a groove, it holds the groove, it inhabits a special place in anyone who knows how to keep a beat tight in the ten toes of their feet.
This eight track collection did motivate me to want to explore more of Ms. Martin’s previous releases. She has an interesting way of trying to cook an old recipe with new ingredients. Many musicians can do this – what sets Ms. Martin apart is how she seamlessly injects her personality into her music and hence, her presentation. One could say, this has all been done before. And they would be right. But, what was not done before was sewing Depeche Mode to Hot Tuna. That wasn’t done before. Because it wasn’t done heavy-handed – lacks tedium, has no disrespect for the traditional genre, is performed faithfully and proficiently – then, Daphne Lee Martin’s intentions are to be applauded.
Recently, Daphne covered Tom Waits’ classic track “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You.” Who more appropriate than Ms. Martin? At first, I was apprehensive because I am very protective about who tries to tackle a Waits’ song. I have heard many dreadful versions only because the artist just didn’t “get it.”
For instance, Rod Stewart’s “Downtown Train,” is thumbs down. But, Patty Smyth’s version of “Downtown Train” – recorded before Rod’s version – is two thumbs up. She understood the song.
But, when I sampled a few songs from Daphne’s earlier album “Moxie,” that prepared me. There was a hint of swing, a sly smile and a shifty wink of an eye in her music and Waits? His words and melody would definitely be a perfect match for Ms. Martin’s voice. On this single – Daphne sings it the way Waits would probably enjoy it. A very somber, lonely, sincere rendition with heart wrenching bellowing synth strings and Daphne easily becomes the definitive female voice of this tale.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / May 2015