by Devon Leger
We’ve been fans of Oregon creative writing teacher and powerful roots music songwriter Jeffrey Martin for a while now. Not only can he write a perfect folk song (requirements: thought-provoking, emotionally resonant, and eminently hummable), but his sadly-resigned vocals nestle so well into his simple guitar work that we can’t help falling for pretty much every song he writes. On his new album, Dogs in the Daylight, released on Portland, Oregon label Fluff & Gravy Records, his songs seem more pointed than ever. “Man,” though simply titled, is one of the more powerful anti-war songs we’ve heard in a while, and as a whole the songs can be taken as poetic ruminations on a world that’s let us all down.
Pretty much everyone we know in the music industry is just fed up with singer-songwriters. Hundreds and hundreds of vanity pressings and terrible songs about nothing have burned pretty much every bridge there ever was for many singer-songwriters. Jeffrey Martin is one of my last hopes, and the person I’d go to first to prove the worth of the singer-songwriter genre. The best thing about Jeffrey Martin is that he writes copy as well as he writes songs. He’s just a great writer! So we had to ask him to send over the stories and influences behind a few of our favorite songs on his new album.
Jeffrey Martin - Coal Fire
There was a story I read somewhere a few years back about an underground coal fire that burned beneath an entire community in Pennsylvania. It's been burning since 1962, some say 1932, and is still burning today. Eventually the town had to be evacuated and permanently relocated. Smoke started rising up throughout the town, in people's backyards, and well-water and underground gas tanks started to get boiling hot, roads collapsed. I was staying in a hotel when I read the story and I remember just laying awake all night in the dark with these scenes in my mind of that burning town. It seemed so haunting to me, a fire smoldering under people's houses, eating these ribbons of coal in the dark. Apparently the fire was started by someone burning trash at a landfill and letting it smolder down into the earth until it entered a coal mine shaft. What a legacy to leave. I was struck by how sometimes our lives are the same way. I'm reminded of that Thoreau quote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." We maintain these complex interior lives, and rarely if ever let them out to breathe. And then we fall in love and make friends and raise children and assume that what can't be seen doesn't really affect our lives. But it does. Probably more than what can be seen. Eventually whole towns have to move.
Jeffrey Martin - Wellspring
When I wrote this song I was (still am, constantly) reading a lot of Cormac McCarthy, The Blood Meridian, and I was thinking a lot about what we leave behind when we die, what ripples out past our lives into the lives of our children and lovers and friends. I don't believe we are destined to be carbon copies of our parents, but I do believe that we are destined to be affected by what our parents set in motion, whether it be for good or bad. This song tells the story of a family who is destroyed by a father’s decision to try to escape the wrongs he committed. The real tragedy in life, and in the song, is that we are all long dead before we really see how our legacies play out. We're like those church builders from hundreds of years ago who spent their entire lives carving stone for something they would never see completed. At least they had the benefit of seeing the stones they worked on placed amidst thousands of others, to see a wall as a unit, and to see how a poorly worked stone could undermine lifetimes of work. I don't believe that those of us who come from less-than-healthy families are cursed or doomed to carry on legacies of brokenness and hurt. But sooner or later we all come face to face with what was set in motion long before we existed. The song is about colliding with that momentum.
Jeffrey Martin - The Middle
This is one of those songs I sing to myself, to remind myself of things I want to remember. It was inspired by a conversation I once heard while riding in the backseat of a car. The two in front were talking about God and whether or not God exists and whether or not God exists the same for everyone and whether or not we all need God in the same way. It was really a conversation between someone who was incredibly graceful and someone who was incredibly fearful. Sometimes people assume that it's a song about relative values, about finding what is true for you, etc., but for me it's never been that. I think there is absolute right and wrong in the world, and I also think there is a space in the middle of those two things, and strangely enough it's in that middle ground, where we are forced to really figure out why we believe what we believe, that any convictions worth having are found. I've always loved old men and women who are quiet in what they know; the way they move and speak without trying to convince anyone of anything. I also love couples who are really rough around the edges and who are unashamed of how theirs isn't the typical picture of healthy love, but seem to have been saved by each other regardless. They give mass and weight, dimensions, to the middle that can't be denied.
Purchase Jeffrey Martin's New Album HERE