On a brisk night in early Spring, Rebecca Martin’s expression mirrors the bright full moon that seemed to hang gleefully above her, over the clear deep skies just above Manhattan. She was glowing.
Her new album, Twain, was released on Sunnyside that day, only two days removed from the publishing of a masterfully written article by Nate Chinen of The New York Times. The feature had everything from background about Martin to the evolving movements in jazz to the music itself. So unsurprisingly when asked about what she thought was missing in the piece, the singer replies sheepishly, “Nothing.”
Perhaps fittingly, it was the kind of transitional day when winter seemed to linger a bit and spring hasn’t yet awakened. The equinox is passed but the evidence of change hasn’t quite arrived. And Martin, bright eyed but a bit tired from the day’s hustle and bustle was unexpectedly serene.
Neither dismissing, minimizing nor overstating the relevance of all that was happening, she modestly professes to not knowing what everything really means. It’s a theme she implies in her album and one she restates throughout the conversation. For just as it was that day, on what’s to come about, only time holds the secret. If the album were to be subtitled, it might very well be “The Certainty of Uncertainties and Change.” “This record has been a long time in the making,” she states. “A lot of living and a lot of energy have gone into the creation of this group of songs.“
Twain is the story of Rebecca Martin from the other side of time. The album is a collection of knowledge gained and lessons learned. The lyrics evoke wisdom, the kind of wisdom that accepts that one is simply never wise enough to know everything, to control everything, especially when in the midst of things. It is the kind that comes from real life--as a musician, as an activist and as a mother.
The girl from Rumford, Maine, sitting at a table on the High Line, soup in hand, has grown up since leaving her hometown in 1990; since forming, Once Blue, with Jesse Harris; and since the release of the duo’s self-titled record in 1995. Fate has taken them to separate journeys.
Many years have passed since a friend asked Martin to go cross-country. And because she could not go, he asked Harris instead to accompany him on that trip. Passing through the Lone Star State, they met a young “sort of guide for musicians in town” at the University of Texas. “They hung out all night and convinced her to move to New York.” She would. Subsequently Harris and that young woman would later collaborate on a song that would go on to win the 2003 Grammy Award for Record of the Year. The guide? Norah Jones. The song? “Don’t Know Why” by Jesse Harris.
Still Martin projects no regret when recounting the story. It’s been more than a decade after all. Though perhaps more importantly, she appreciates that life is a series of things happening, of changes that are not fully within one’s control. And like a game, things don’t necessarily end the same way were the players changed. “It all happened because of a trip I was supposed to go on, that I cancelled. And I’m glad I did! Because that’s how she got to meet Jesse. It’s amazing how life is!”
Besides, many things had happened at that fork in the road. She recounts moving out of New York to get away from it, of leaving her band when it was so close to really making it big before the label went bankrupt, and of watching everyone “disperse.” It was the beginning of what she thought was the end.
“The ‘drive’, which I loved,” she recalls, “in the end started to beat me up.” She felt she needed to move away, to start over not only in music but in life as well. And she’s glad she did. “Had I gotten the success that I thought I was going to have at that time, I don’t know…I don’t know what would have happened. I needed to grow up.” Her coming of age in music and life is evident in Twain.
All seemed well in new beginnings
She can’t tell if her luck’s ending
The master plans was foiled by change
The work at hand’s a ball and chain
- from Oh Well
Turn the page
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