red lights


Indie spirit with Americana heart

Martha Berner - ...this side of yesterday
(Machine Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Oct. 15, 2005
Martha Berner

Review by Tony Bonyata

Ever since the cover art of the twelve-inch vinyl album has been shrunk down to a tiny, square CD cover that can fit into the palm of your hand, album art hasn't seemed as important in the whole creative package as it once did before. But, oddly enough, one of the first things that becomes immediately apparent after listening to Chicago-based Martha Berner's lush full-length debut ...this side of yesterday, is how well the cover art represents this enchanting collection of beautifully performed and arranged numbers. The warm orange and red hues on the cover not only mirror the warmth and heart that beats so strongly throughout these ten tracks, but the ornate Victorian border accents also tie in with a similar age-old beauty buried deep within these acoustic-driven numbers. Even the photo of Martha herself -  a slightly fuzzy image of her bundled in a coat, scarf and hat with her eyes closed as if in deep contemplation or even a trance - immediately lends comparisons to the many thought-provoking, introspective and, at times, even haunting compositions represented here.
Recorded in Lake Geneva, WI, Madison, WI and Lexington, KY this effort was co-produced by Duane Lundy and Todd Bowie. Both of these talents also lent various instrumentation to the album as well; most notably Bowie's ethereal electric guitar that lightly hovers in and out of the acoustic opening track "Lady of Plenty," as well as his poignant guitar-line that gives even deeper meaning to Berner's words when she pleads, "try to love me" throughout "Or Anyway."
A wellspring of other musicians have also lent their talents to the production - Jon Adams and Dave Sarkis on guitars, Mikey Wild, Tyler Little and The Apparitions' Robby Casenza on drums, among others - and the contributions made are all essential to the final outcome of the project - not through showboating or trying to gain the spotlight, but instead all acting as subtle, yet integral, support players on these songs. If there's any musician here that singularly stands out on this effort, it would have to be IG, whose piano-work poignantly dances atop the shuffling rhythm through the lovely "Good Company."
Make no mistake, though, the secret weapon here is Berner herself. Not only is she a natural at the art of song composition and craft, as most apparent on the bittersweet sonnet "Dear Franklin," the gentle "Poor Little Me" and the country-tinged "A Town Called Happiness," with the singer interjecting a Dylan-esque feel to the number with her earthy harmonica, but this young woman's voice is one to be reckoned with in either worlds of folk or rock. With both a warm and welcoming vulnerability, Berner bares both her soul and self-doubt in "Adore Me" as she sings, "lay the my conscience at your feet, apologize for my disguise.. and I'm afraid I'll wake one day and you will no longer adore me." But just as her frail timbre reflects the fragility of her inner self, she also exudes both confidence and the will to move forward with a more spirited delivery from the gut on "Dear Franklin."
Instead of trying to recreate the folk-rock wheel, Berner has instead delivered something much more lasting by creating an album that lightly infuses indie-rock sensibilities into songs that embrace the spirit and soul of Americana music.

Martha Berner will be performing this Saturday, October 15 as part of her CD Release Party at Gordy's Boat House, 320 Lake St., Fontana, WI (262) 275-6800

Martha will also be appearing live on Fox 6 Milwaukee's "Wake Up News" television show on Tuesday, October 18 at 8:45 am.

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