Songbird Martha Scanlan, who resides near Missoula, has her fourth album out in 11 years. The reclusive singer/songwriter, a guitar player and former member of the old-time string band the Reeltime Travelers, has appeared on NPR and shared the stage with celebrated roots artists. Back when, she soaked up the music of eastern Tennessee, and was heavily influenced by that personal connection between people and their natural surroundings that infuses traditional music.
She moved west to a Montana ranch and wedded her compositions to the Treasure State’s rivers and wide-open spaces. Her songs are quiet and sparse; they’re simple, yet ring with vivid, intimate descriptions underpinned by drony guitar chords that ride beneath Scanlan’s delicate soprano. Such alchemy defines her music.
She’s accompanied on this effort by long-time collaborator Jon Neufeld, who plays a slew of instruments, including all kinds of guitars, mandolin, dulcimer, omnichord, and an mbira (think thumb piano). He also contributes vocals. Acclaimed roots musician Dirk Powell, fiddle and accordion, and Black Prairie’s Annalisa Tornfelt, fiddle and vocals, flesh out the album.
“Brother Was Dying,” with its fuzzed-up guitar, is bluesy and shuffly, belying its bittersweet title. Scanlan sings, “remember the time when you rode with me, chasing light chasing time, you were young and you were with me.”
“West Virginia Rain” has a folky country beat and a soaring fiddle interlude, and “Buttermilk Road” is a whimsical, idyllic paean to a loved one. “Only a River/True-Eyed Angel” opens as an instrumental tune, slow and strangely eerie, before it segues to Scanlan’s vocals: “I’ll swing you in circles in the arms of an eddy in the sweet flowing river.”
Scanlan continues to adorn her albums with pretty melodies and eloquent lyrics. Learn more at marthascanlan.com.
– Mariss McTucker