Link to Living Tradition Homepage





MARTHA BURNS - Old-Time Songs

MARTHA BURNS - Old-Time Songs
Private Label

I’m ashamed that I know next to nothing about Martha; copious research yields only the basic information that she’s been singing and playing American folk music for some 40 years, performing both in a solo capacity and with old-time string bands and other outfits, and that in the 80s she was in a duo with fiddler Allan Block. And, even more surprisingly, I discover that Old-Time Songs is her first-ever solo album release – and that it got funded through Kickstarter less than two years ago. And yet it’s turned out to be one of my most-played CDs this year so far. It’s absolutely charming!

Martha’s the possessor of an archetypal old-time singing voice: one that fair echoes the Appalachian mountains, it’s said. And although it exhibits a characteristic slightly abrasive edge, it proves very easy to warm to Martha’s delivery due to her entirely natural and involving way with a song and her acute feel for the repertoire in all its guises. Her own individual repertoire, then, on reflection, ain’t so surprising either, for she sings anything that takes her fancy. She proudly runs the gamut from the poignant Civil War song Poor Soldier (learnt from Frank Profitt and here delivered a cappella in true high lonesome mode – a disc highlight) to a spirited version of the traditional ballad of Bangum And The Boar; from a clutch of unashamedly sentimental songs from Tin Pan Alley including Give Me Your Love And I’ll Give You Mine (popularised by the Carter Family) and Cabin With The Roses At The Door, to the playful Hop, Old Rabbit, Hop; from a goodly selection of cowboy songs (including Get Along, Little Dogies and The Night Guard), to the iconic Whiskey Seller (from Tom Paley via Mike Seeger and a Lomax recording of Indiana’s John Collier). Martha also gleefully embarks on a couple of novelty numbers: Irving Berlin’s fin-de-wartime Oh How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning and the delectably silly hypochondriac’s ditty Some Little Bug Is Going To Find You Someday.

Martha engages harmony singers John del Re and Kelly Macklin on The Rose Tree and Salem, two rousing, yet frustratingly brief Sacred-Harp-type pieces taken from the 2012 Shenandoah Harmony collection (and oh how I wish she’d recorded more of these…), while Bruce Molsky joins Martha for a brilliantly idiomatic harmony-vocal part on the deliciously vibrant nonsense song The Big Corral and then proceeds to pick up his banjo to accompany Martha on Whiskey Seller. Elsewhere, though, the only instrumentation Martha employs is her own guitar: spare and simple, neatly accomplished yet undistracting and always appropriately judged – which in the end is all that’s needed.

And Martha’s wonderful performances are set into informative relief by her companionable booklet notes. An unassuming yet highly satisfying and most treasurable release that I sure wouldn’t want to be without.

David Kidman

Secure On-line mailorder service
Buy this CD online from The Listening Post
The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 104 of The Living Tradition magazine.