Song Of The Week: Molly Martin “Tomatoes”

Molly Martin: Somewhere Between (Out June 25)
Molly Martin: Somewhere Between (Out June 25)

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.

(Somewhere Between comes out June 25.  You can pre-order it here.  If you’re in Nashville, catch their record release party on June 27.)

Song Of The Week: Molly Martin “Tomatoes”

Anyone Reading This?

Anyone reading this?

Anyone Reading This?

Song Of The Week: Toadies, “Possum Kingdom”

In future and past 96X Anthology posts, I’ll (hopefully) think about old songs in new ways.  I’ll (probably) reveal a few things about myself.  I’ll (maybe) better understand my own adolescence and musical education.  I’ll (definitely) wax nostalgic on what I believe was the 2nd-greatest decade of pop music.  I’ll (arguably) highlight how music in 2013 is impacted by music in the 96X era.  And (certainly), I’ll write about 1000 words a week, try to have an idea, and try to make it worthwhile.

BUT NOT TODAY!

Today, I’m featuring a song from Volume 6 that still gets me so riled up that I can’t discuss it rationally.  There are no ideas here.  Just total, unrelenting, nostalgic joy:

Song of the Week: Toadies, “Possum Kingdom”

If you were a kid in the 96X era and didn’t hear Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom,” I’ll have a hard time relating to you.  For me, this song is as much ingrained into anyone’s 90’s experience as their first kiss, or Bill Clinton, or the first time they kissed Bill Clinton.  “Possum Kingdom” is not the best song (but is it?).  Toadies are not the best band (but are they?).  There are more important songs from the 90’s, more quintessential songs of the 90’s, more popular songs from the 90’s, and (if “grunge” was the defining sound of the 90’s) grungier songs from the 90’s.

Simply: there are a million better songs than Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom.”  But there are only a handful of songs whose opening seconds bring me more joy.

Why is that?

Since I’m CLEARLY NOT TRYING THIS WEEK, my attempted answers will come in list-form:

1) It’s fucking awesome.  Sorry for the language, but I need to be precise.  This song just isn’t “awesome.”  It’s fucking awesome*.  I’ll outline this descriptor at the bottom of the post.  Warning: more bad language.

1A) Between “Possum Kingdom” and “Tyler,” their two biggest songs were fearlessly creepy.  Maybe more than any other 90’s band.  Wait, no–Live.  Live.  Always Live.

2) “This is 96X music.”  96X had its own little commercial tags coming in and out of breaks.  With faux-gravitas, The 96X Voice would say “THIS…is 96X music,” and then they’d splice together a few moments of a few recognizable songs to let you know their format.  This moment of “Possum Kingdom” was always “96X music.”  I don’t think they ever had a tag that didn’t include it.

2A) It was 96X music.  This single came out in the fall of 1994 and only gained strength through the spring and summer of 1995.  That was arguably the best nine months of the 96X-era: grunge had exploded, alt-rock had splintered in twenty different directions, and 96X’s format suddenly meant “everything we like.”

Think about it: the grunge torch-bearers were either in their prime (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains) or already legends (Nirvana).  Second and third generation grunge bands (STP, Bush, Silverchair, Candlebox, Seven Mary Three, Toadies, Live, etc) had broken the mainstream and competed for airtime.  College radio demigods were now headlining festivals and selling out arenas (Jane’s Addiction, R.E.M.).  Countless iterations of “alt-rock weirdness” were popping up the charts (Green Day, Weezer, Better Than Ezra, Gin Blossoms, Cranberries, Everclear, Oasis).  The Horde & Lilith Fair crowds were picking up steam.  As disparate as these artists were, they all made sense under the tent of “96X music.”

So, not only did an average radio block put Dada’s “Dizz Knee Land” alongside Alice In Chains’ “Rooster” alongside Spacehog’s “In the Meantime,” nobody thought twice about it.  For a moment, anything went.  It was a thrilling time to listen to the radio.  And “Possum Kingdom” was one of the biggest hits during a golden era for popular music.  For me, “Possum Kingdom” isn’t a cool song or a fond memory: it represents the peak of the 96X era.

It wasn’t the best song on 96X, but it was 96X music.

Volume 7: Same time next week!

(*On my scale, a “fucking awesome” song rates higher than an “awesome” song.  It’s more specific than “awesome,” because awesome is vague.  A “fucking awesome” song rocks; it’s also usually “bitchin.”  While an “awesome” song’s merits are more subjective, a fucking awesome song is, in some way, objectively great.  Usually that way is “undeniable, incorruptible, irrepressibly lovable rocksauce.”  A fucking awesome song often gets better with age, as it feeds off nostalgia.  “Fucking awesome” songs resonate more if you’re wearing denim.  “Fucking awesome” songs sound better if you’re in a mall parking lot.  At its heart, a “fucking awesome” song is a “fuckin’ awesome” song.)

Song Of The Week: Toadies, “Possum Kingdom”