I'm starting to believe that Jeff Martin has never met a musical genre he didn't like. Or couldn't smoothly combine with rock music. The raven haired singer-songwriter behind the now defunct influential Canadian operatic-rock act Tea Party, Martin had a fairly decent choke hold on the Canadian popular music scene during the early and mid 1990s. But changing musical tastes and creative differences within in the band led to decline in Tea Party's fortunes and their eventual break-up in 2005. Martin's follow up act The Armada was unfortunately short lived. Which is a shame since the band, despite sounding incredibly similar to the now deceased Tea Party, was very good. Undeterred Martin went back to the studio with a new supporting band: Jeff Martin 777. The Ground Cries Out was the end result.
The end result is a musical Trojan horse. The title suggests material with a sombre tone and an epic scale, similar to his earlier work. Indeed the eponymous first track, “The Ground Cries Out”, possesses Martin's hallmark operatic-rock sound and influences from Middle-Eastern traditional music. But then the following track “Queen of Spades” reveals the truth, Martin has made a blues-rock album. Seven of eleven tracks either freely mingle blues with hard rock or are purely blues tracks. The wailing harmonica in “Queen of Spades” and the twangy guitars of “1916” are unmistakeable. While “River Rambler” is almost country rock. Martin is famous for experimenting with genres and trying new things. It pays off here. The Ground Cries Out definitively proves that Jeff Martin is not only a supremely talented talented musician, he is an incredibly versatile one as well.
Martin is a born bluesman. His deep voice, so ominous and resonant in his rock music, here conjures images of smoky bars and cheating women. The music is just as good. Martin's guitar in particular is fantastic. Even the aforementioned misfit songs were very good. “The Ground Cries Out”, “She's leaving” and “The Pyre” have the same grandeur of his earlier work. No points for originality but still great music. The fourth renegade track, “The Mekong”, is inexplicably world music. More specifically Jeff Martin's interpretation of Vietnamese folk music, complete with humming chorus and traditional instruments. While that sounds like a bad idea on paper, amazingly Martin has even this genre covered! The song is extremely well composed. Which begs the question: is Jeff Martin going to release an album full of world music? He's already half way there as is.
Bottom line, the musical performances on this album are superb. As is the mixing. Martin's vocal flexibility allows him to fluidly alternate between different genres and sound good doing them all. Even if I didn't particularly care for a song, namely “She's Leaving”, I couldn't deny the band its due credit. However it's kind of a shame that Martin didn't just release a pure blues-rock album. While I enjoyed those four previously mentioned songs, “The Mekong” especially, they make the album feel a bit disjointed. They also take up spots which could have been filled by more blues-rock tracks. Which I enjoyed far more and wanted to get back to. I nonetheless applaud Martin's stylistic ambition and am thoroughly impressed by his adaptability.
The Ground Cries Out's variety also presents the listener with some very interesting musical possibilities. Martin has the gravitas to achieve the grandiose, the cool to pull off the intimate and the musical comprehension to do the music of a very different tradition justice. It's very rare that you encounter a performer who possesses such a powerful skill-set. Perhaps Martin should leave just go off the deep end and immerse himself in world music for a short while. I can guarantee that the end results will probably be both unique and intriguing. Who knows what tricks that man has up his sleeves.