For the third time in two years, Amy Martin is launching a new folk music recording upon the fickle winds of American culture. Since her arrival in Missoula in September of 1999, Martin has attracted a dependable circle of benefactors whose assistance has enabled her to jump feet first into the practice of music at a professional level. Her three recordings, which show a steadily progressing confidence and skill, are an affirmation of a small community’s ability to help (if only by granting her studio time and the possibility of experience) nurture the strengths and the spirit of an artist whose music reflects many of their own best sentiments. One local admirer of Martin’s music says, “Amy is doing the hard work, writing songs with a radical spiritual commitment to unconditional love that’s very important.”
Martin’s new release, entitled This Fall, is by far her most elegant and cohesive recording overall. Martin seems to have found a near perfect balance to her unvarnished guitar style in the musical accompanists that perform with her on this recording (Mason Tuttle, lead guitar and vocals; Mike Freemole, bass; Paul Donaldson, drums; Sue Silverberg, additional vocals). In an interview, she praised their uncanny instincts to synchronize their playing to her varying guitar and vocal arrangements. From bright birdsong to thunder’s dark warning, the result is a live recording that does not suffer from the flatness or the “drowning” effect that can afflict the recordings of less attentive players.
Three songs on the disc are lovingly adapted from Taoist sage Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (translated by Ursula Le Guin). Spaced throughout the recording, the songs serve as a “connective thread,” “islands of spiritual clarity” between the searching and celebrations of Martin’s original songs. “Ring Around” is a song that may yet be bound for glory. A lamentation on the extreme violence in American society today, each verse unerringly reveals an aspect of that violence (clear-cutting forests, the serial murder of women, grade school massacres). The chorus binds the song with a heart-wrenchingly creative adaptation of the child’s verse, “ashes, ashes we all fall down.” In “Prayer to Mamagod,” the first song Martin wrote following the horrifying events of Sept. 11, she calls into question her own self-righteous inclinations, asking for the wisdom and grace to make peace in her own heart, before taking on the brutality of others.
Martin’s songs have a neighborly voice that is both humble and deeply introspective. In combination, her alternately anguished and celebratory melodies, insightful meditations, admissions of vulnerability, colorful guitar and resonant vocals, sashay around the cerebral mind to touch lightly upon the questioning spirit. Her songs are imperfect gems. At times, her lyrics show a less-than-painstaking attention to detail, as when she sings of “a battlefield nurse tending to the wounds of the dead.” And though at times her lyrics lapse into a prosaic vocabulary and syntax, more akin to conversations over the back fence than to the alchemy that transforms ordered words into expressive light, Martin’s unadorned clarity of heart nevertheless puts the “folk” back into folk music, with a rare integrity that makes her songs admirable well beyond their minor shortcomings.
In the old tradition of tithing, Martin has consistently dedicated a portion of the proceeds from her recordings to assist noble causes. All proceeds from This Fall will go to support non-profit aid to grassroots education and healthcare for Afghani refugees. Martin explains her intention as assisting Afghani people in restoring, for themselves, a basic life-giving social infrastructure in the squalid environs of the Pakistani refugee camps, and assisting the women of Afghanistan, still suffering under the weight of more than 20 years of oppressive fundamentalism. Proceeds will go to help pay for educational supplies and facilities, to pay for teachers and teacher training programs, and to help build a hospital. (To learn more about the recipient organizations, you can visit their websites: The Afghan Institute of Learning www.creatinghope.org, The Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan www.rawa.org).
This Friday, Martin hosts a gathering at the Masquer Theater, on the University of Montana campus, to celebrate the release of The Harvest Project CD, This Fall. Two Afghani women, Noorjahan Parwana and Huma Babak, both of whom spent their childhoods in Afghanistan and now live in the United States, will be there to share some of their experiences, show photographs and present analysis on Islam, women’s issues and the role the United States has played in Afghanistan, both before and after Sept. 11.