Dogs in the Daylight, the latest offering by Eugene-based folk artist Jeffrey Martin, is the next album in a small series of indie folk releases by Portland's Fluff & Gravy Records. Having listened to the album many times in recent weeks I can say that Martin seems to be the sort of individual who understands that a pen never used will never make its mark, transferring its wielder's thoughts and feelings, observations and experiences to the page. As such, he constantly draws from his artistic well in bucketfuls of musical expression, combining words and acoustic instrumentation in a way that simultaneously captures listeners' ears, minds and hearts.
This fifteen-song collection - fourteen originals and one cover - shows that Martin's approach to songwriting and its resulting material is pure and reflective, soulful and intelligent. And there are certainly some profound lines in his songs, all accompanied by well-composed song bodies, with additional instrumentation provided by Sam Howard (upright bass), Jody Redifer (drums), John Shepski (piano), Anna Tivel (vocals, fiddle, octave violin, and mandolin), and Kai Welch (trumpet).
Martin mines the present, the past, and the world around him for inspiration, and is just as much a wordsmith as a musician, if not more so. Regarding his words and subject matter, he says, "Holden Caulfield makes me want to walk around in the cold and smoke cigarettes and get raw, and Neil Young makes me want to grow old and gentle, and E.E. Cummings makes me want to be more joyful. There are words filled with power, and those without; whether they are in song form or not matters very little. I want my words to make people want to do things." That statement told me as much about Jeffrey Martin and his endeavor as I needed to know in order to give his album a serious listen. And I am glad I did.
The opening track on Dogs in the Daylight is "Coal Fire" - a darkly beautiful song with gentle picking, keys, and clearly conveyed lyrics whose subject matter could very well be referring to the underground fires burning under the cracked streets and ramshackle houses of Centralia, Pennsylvania, for over fifty years now, but its meaning goes deeper than that. The title track is easily one of the standouts on the album, has six-string strumming, punctuating bass notes, rising and falling trumpet parts, and this highly memorable line: "...the wolves in the dark are only dogs in the daylight." "Down At the Bottom" picks up the tempo a bit, with upbeat guitar and drumming like a wagon wheel, and the words, "I found a spark in the dark, and it moves me along"...which we should all be so fortunate to find. "Newborn Thing" is a pretty profound song, with the lyrics "I felt the cracking of the whip and hiss of industry, and saw the men who were dying to live," and "...I have traded my gold for a pen and some ink, and I am trying hard to write my name."
There is so much more to this album that what I have described above, but I am not going to go on and on about it. It should be freshly discovered by each listener in his or her own way. And I am sure I won't be alone in my assertion that Dogs in the Daylight is as close to a masterpiece as a folk album by an emerging singer-songwriter can get.
Jeffrey Martin's Dogs in the Daylight was released on CD and digital download from Fluff & Gravy as of August 18th, 2014.