When I lived in Nashville, I made a lot of mistakes. I worked hard, but dumb. I wrote clever, not true. I was an unending parade of narcissism, avoidance, and bad haircuts. I wasn’t the songwriter I wanted to be, I wasn’t the musician I wanted to be, and I certainly wasn’t the person I wanted to be.
It’s some miracle, then, that in the midst of that three-year hellstorm I did one thing (perhaps only one thing) right: I became friends with Steve Martin.*
(*Not that one.)
Song of the Week: Molly Martin, “Tomatoes“
If you didn’t know Steve and Molly Martin, you might suspect their identities, lives, and marriage were hand-crafted by the Nashville CVB. Steve Martin is a talented young record producer. Molly Martin is a talented young singer/songwriter. When Molly plays a show, Steve joins her on dobro. When Steve’s recording upstairs, Molly asks if anyone needs caffeine. Steve has an impeccably-groomed beard and an arsenal of plaid shirts that would make Portland jealous. Molly’s day job is “director of culinary operations” for a boutique catering company. Their East Nashville cottage houses Steve’s home studio. It is basically furnished with instruments, vinyl, good coffee, and yesterday’s wine. They grow tomatoes in the back yard.
If they aren’t the ideal for how Nashville–specifically East Nashville–views itself, they’re in the brochure.
So, Molly Martin’s Somewhere Between (out June 25) is the debut record the couple was destined to–one day, someday, hopefully–make. It was worth the wait. Throughout the record, Molly’s songwriting and breezily gorgeous voice are bolstered by an all-star cast of decorated Nashville musicians. From the wistful “Somewhere Between” to the brooding “Wrecking Ball,” these songs are inhabited by as many heartening moments as unexpected arrangements and great performances. It is warm, and inviting, and endlessly listenable. I would classify this record as “Sunday morning music.” Somewhere Between is one of those records where each listener might pick a different favorite song. And though I might disagree with myself tomorrow, “Tomatoes” is my favorite song.
These songs are so richly layered that “Tomatoes” stands out. In an album chock-full of ear candy, we get a hushed, minimalist take: Molly’s guitar, Molly’s voice, and (for a moment) organ. The effect is this: you’re at a dinner party and the room is full of sparkling conversation. Suddenly, your date says: “I need to tell you something.” She leans in close to your ear. It’s intimate, but tense. Then she says, “I love you.”
It’s a transition from “heavily orchestrated” to “stripped bare,” and it’s deeply disarming. It’s one that Steve loves to use, and one he’s used before.
“Tomatoes” isn’t a big song, but it might reflect the best of Molly and Steve. It highlights the things I admire most about Molly: thoughtful lyrics and effortlessly disarming vocals. And the way it highlights them is perhaps Steve’s greatest gift. Simply put: I don’t know anyone who is better at capturing artists, by themselves, in a single performance.
When I started this blog, I told myself I wouldn’t write about friends’ music. But when I started this blog, it was 2006, and I was just starting my career. My friends were just starting theirs, too. Now, in 2013, some of those friends, acquaintances, past showmates, and cohorts are gaining steam. They are playing Bonaroo. They’re on Letterman, and they’re in Pitchfork. It’s thrilling and rewarding to have finally reached the age where peers are breaking through.
It seems silly to not brag on a friends’ music when every other blog is. The music speaks for itself. Molly Martin doesn’t need my approval: she and Steve made a lovely record, and “Tomatoes” is a beautiful song. Chefs say that, when someone loves what they’re cooking and whom they’re cooking for, you can taste the difference. To enjoy Somewhere Between–and “Tomatoes”–is to hear that difference.
To know Steve and Molly Martin is to know how deeply they love music, and how deeply it connects the two of them. When I met Steve in 2007, he immediately introduced me to a new record (The Thrills’ So Much For The City). As we became friends, music anchored our conversations. When he began dating Molly, music framed their relationship. Concerts were dates; LPs were gifts. All the while, Molly was writing new songs, Steve was producing new records and making his home studio. And for a young artist feeling scattered and feckless, watching them was formative. I was breaking things; they were building something.
Years later, they’ve built it. They made Somewhere Between with Molly’s songs and Steve’s production. They carved out the time between day jobs and night jobs. They recorded at their East Nashville home studio, bolstered by coffee and yesterday’s wine, tomatoes growing nearby.