Jeffrey Martin isn’t so much a singer/songwriter as he is a wandering troubadour of the downhearted and desolate. A former high school English teacher, Martin’s lyrics have been compared to the work of short story masters Raymond Carver and Annie Proulx. Much like fellow Portland musician Willy Vlautin, Martin’s voice is pained, vulnerable, and intimately connected to the music. He’s long been considered a “songwriter’s songwriter,” which roughly translates to “overlooked and underpaid,” but that ought to change with his new album, One Go Around, which is out this week on Fluff and Gravy Records.
It picks up where 2014’s Dogs in the Daylight left off, with songs about ordinary men and women trying to do right in the word and failing miserably. Martin reflects on small-town sadness, the eternal recurrence of working-class struggles, and, on “Billy Burroughs,” considers the complicated legacy of the infamous Beat author. “What We’re Marching Toward,” with its simple guitar picking and rudimentary harmonica playing, could be heard as yet another folk protest song from yet another white male folksinger, but Martin chooses instead to address a world that is complicit in its silence: “I saw a man on the news tonight/Crying for his child in the war,” he sings. “He looked at the camera and asked with his eyes/Do we know what we’re marching toward?”
Produced by Tyler Fortier, One Go Around is, like Martin’s previous record, aided by minimal accompaniment—violin, pedal steel, upright bass—and these are used sparingly, never drawing away from the simple, arresting beauty of his stories. Where Dogs in the Daylight was almost suffocating in its bleakness, One Go Around offers a glimmer of hope—a very small glimmer, but a glimmer nonetheless. On “Thrift Store Dress,” Martin pays tribute to his sweetheart, who is also his sometime traveling companion and musical accomplice. And on “Time Away,” with a melody evocative of Jeffrey Foucault’s “Cross of Flowers,” he reminisces about long nights on the road spent counting down the days until he could return home to his beloved.
Though he’s still fluent in the language of the crestfallen and heartbroken, on One Go Around Jeffrey Martin appears to be that much closer to understanding what we talk about when we talk about love.