Baird, Ken - Martin Road

Year of Release: 2003
Label: Perpetual Tree Music/Socan
Catalog Number: KBCD004
Format: CD
Total Time: 53:04:00

Imagine an album full of mellow, relaxed, warm compositions that all seem perfect for driving along the open road at sunset. It probably would sound a lot like what Ken Baird has done for his fourth release Martin Road. And you know he was thinking the same thing when putting the cover and inside artwork together - all the pictures reflect this feeling? early evening-twilight, maybe slightly cool, and spread out before you is miles and miles of open road. It's a symbolic image of freedom, of escaping to something we hope is better? or at least different.

Although modern sounding, Martin Road is very much in the tradition of the soft-rock, singer-songwriters style of the 70s. Names like Jackson Browne, CSNY, America, Bread, James Taylor, Carole King, etc. will come to mind quite often. A decade later, the references would be Bruce Hornsby, and, to a much lesser degree REM. And in "Window" you will think of Spock's Beard? Yeh, I'm talking the SB of the "June" variety. Of Kevin Gilbert a bit, too. I don't assign any specific influence, but it does suggest that Baird's writing style comes from the same wellspring that inspired both ex-SB singer/lyricist Neal Morse and Gilbert.

Baird is a multi-instrumentalist who plays piano and keyboards, guitars, penny whistle, and recorder on various tracks, plus sings lead vocals on all tracks - a warm, resonant voice. He is joined by Chris Lamont on drums, Steve Cochrane on guitar, John Mamone on guitars and bass, Dino Verginella on bass, Jacob Moon on guitar and Susan Fraser on vocals (harmony and backing).

All of the pieces are characterized by a hazy, fuzzy feel? as evening falls, shadows become indistinct, hiding details in their darkness. And this is the effect Baird (who also produced) achieves. It gives everything a magical warmness that a summer evening evokes? There are no real rock pieces, though one ("She Takes One Step") moves to mid-tempo and another becomes a bit more than mid-tempo ("Paved Over Summertime"). Otherwise, pieces develop slowly, evolve, and yet aren't sluggish. Some might find Baird just a little too mellow, however. And mainly this is because everything seems so understated, his tone sometimes a bit dry. You are tempted to say that the album doesn't energize you, being this mellow, and yet it does make you want to hit the open road? so its subtle in that.

On the opening track, ?Brave Anna,? Baird glides his way through the song, his vocals coming across as something warm and half-melted. It gives this piece an understated quality, a sense of strength and fragility. It begins with piano and a lilting penny whistle, later tinkling piano passages reminded me Turnstiles period Billy Joel ("Summer, Highland Falls" or "Miami 2017") or that Top 40 instrumental hit in the 80s "The Music Box." And um, Rothery-esque (at times) guitar work (a thought I had at various points throughout the album). "She Takes One Step" has a rolling, road-ready rhythm in a mellow, mid-tempo, soft-rock style. There is a strong 70s vibe to the music, and yet it doesn't sound dated? it's a piece that gives off a warm amber glow. In this piece we hear a little bit of mandolin, though it's Steve Cochrane on guitar. "Drawing Water" has a slightly dreamy edge to it - I thought of Toto's "99" in the transition from chorus to the next verse. "In Between A Home" is like one speaking in hushed tones in a quiet room... or before some sight that you don't really want to speak, just stand in silence? and yet are moved to express your thoughts? tentatively. The arrangement of "Outside" reminded me of two things, one, more recent Marillion (a thought I had again with "Martin Road"), the other, the classic song "You Are Everything."

The most rocking track is the lively "Paved Over Summertime" -- a field, a childhood (or teen-hood) haunt, is gone -- and the mellowest is the lovely "This Old Boat" - a metaphor for that "sinking feeling," that feeling that things are going wrong ("?I'm looking for the hold in this old boat," Baird sings). If "In Between A Home" was tending towards fragility? "This Old Boat" is very much the case? a gentle, lilting piece.

Martin Road is a beautiful album, that at first seems overly mellow, but the more you listen, the more you try to "see" the shapes in the shadows, grows on you. The introspective among us - we music listeners - will see yourself in Baird's lyrics, or at the very least, connect with what he is trying to express.

Brave Anna (7:16) / Window (4:44) / She Takes One Step (5:37) / Drawing Water (5:37) / In Between A Home (5:02) / Outside (4:04) / Paved Over Summertime (3:48) / This Old Boat (6:11) / Martin Road (7:46) / Victoria Day (4:31)

Ken Baird - vocals, piano, keyboards, guitars, penny whistle, recorder
Steve Cochrane - guitars (3, 9)
Susan Fraser - vocals (2, 5, 6, 10)
Chris Lamont - drums (1, 3, 4, 6 - 9)
John Mamone - bass (4, 7)
Jacob Moon - guitars (10)
Dino Verginella - bass (8, 9)

August (1996)
Fields (1998)
Orion (2000)
Martin Road (2004)

Genre: Progressive Folk

Origin US

Added: October 17th 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1136
Language: english


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