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Mainstream music has focused a spotlight on singer-songwriters with a produced-pop sound, like Adele, and electronically focused artists like Lorde, but what happened to the time when acoustic guitar and piano artists like KT Tunstall and James Blunt were all the rage? On his fourth album Bluebird, Mark Martyre brings listeners back to those days wonderfully, adding his tenored Tom Waits-styled rasp to the mix.
Things start brightly on the pensive “Where I’m Bound” where Martyre’s Waits-esque growl sings about being at the crossroads of life. The song slips into a delightfully smooth solo that relaxes the listener instantly before returning to another reflective verse. Martyre strips things back on “Too” where he struggles with a lost love and how they ended things. The sad piano echoes Martyre’s feelings and the finale guitar fills that end the song carry this emotion to slow fade.
This feeling of being alone continues on “Lonely Victory” but here it’s taken with bittersweet pride as Martyre expresses the ups and downs of the lone-wolf life. The piano effortlessly plays delightful fills throughout the track and it’s all scored with a playful joy reminiscent of Randy Newman’s lighter works. “Long Goodbye” finds Martyre shifting back to a sombre feeling as he laments the sadness of travelling on the road. The song is underscored with a beautiful violin and hits its emotional peak on a pained harmonica solo.
The piano leads on “Listen” whose powerful chords demand the listener to do just that. Unfortunately even these chords can’t carry the five-minute length of the somewhat repetitive song, but the songs piano-driven bridge leaves it with a saving grace worth the wait. The mood picks up again on the somewhat meta “Ain’t Finished Yet” as Martyre introspects about writing music and using his life as a reference. The song features the most finessed non-piano playing on the record with both the drums and guitars doing some flair-heavy work throughout. The song also humorously honours its title by throwing a fake ending in before outro-ing on a relaxing solo.
Martyre finally lets the piano stand alone on “Another Night, Another Song” where he wrestles with his own mind and how it can often get the best of him, to his dismay. The last half of the song starts a creeping and emotional swell of strings, that never cuts all the way through the piano but adds to it wholeheartedly. The album closes on the lengthy “Maria, I Still Believe” that pulls some of the best sound and production on the album to a track that builds intensity slowly but skillfully from start to finish. While this creates some powerful solos and yells that the listener wants to yell along with, the lack of any changes or climax makes the nearly nine-minute run-time feel noticeable.
Despite a few blemishes, Bluebird is an enjoyable and often relaxing listen. While it may not change the game, this album will scratch the itch for anyone who loves the singer-songwriter genre, and it definitely stands out as top-notch record in this respect. It’s hard to argue that you’ll find an album like this with a voice like Martyre’s either, so if it hooks you, the album will delight you to no end.