Country Queer

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Album Review: Amy Martin Shares The Trials and Triumphs of Enduring Change With ‘Travelin’ On’

By Richard Marcus

Amy Martin has been releasing Travelin’ On via the instalment plan – one single a month – since late last spring. But as of early January, you can now hear the seven song release as a complete album. While it’s been fun getting to know each song as they’ve individually come out, hearing them in the context of the album gives the entire project added depth.

As you listen to the set of songs as a whole, you realize that Travelin’ On is more than just an arbitrary title. In one way or another, all of the tracks deal with the theme of travel or moving on, sometimes physically, sometimes metaphysically or emotionally. But it isn’t just an album of moving, actually. Its also an album about planting your flag to let the world know which side you are on. It’s declarative in multiple ways.

Martin was born in Virginia and raised a conservative Christian. Being queer doesn’t mix well with either of those circumstances, and as she tells us in the album’s opening track, “Antebellum Town”, there came a point in her life where she just had to move on. “Go ahead and keep your fool’s gold crown/cause I’m leaving this antebellum town/I’ll play the streets and I’ll start again/I’ll make a bunch of progressive friends/Where ‘amen’ and ‘the south Shall rise again’/Aren’t a champagne coup de main.” It’s a powerful opener, and you can hear Martin’s rage and frustration galloping alongside her and she revs her engine and gets out of dodge. Also coming through is the aggravation and disappointment that it’s necessary to leave—that the people around her seem incapable (or are just unwilling) to step up to something better.

Obviously Martin doesn’t have any sentimental attachment to the ‘antebellum’ ideals of the pre-Civil War south, and she just as obviously doesn’t fit in where that sentiment might still exist. However, while those feelings might apply to the attitudes expressed in the region, it doesn’t means she’s abandoned her musical roots.

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As befitting someone who fronted bluegrass bands, the album resonates with the sounds of the Virginia highlands. From the rhythmically strummed, chunky guitar to the swirling violins (ala producer Chance McCoy) heard on the final track of the album, “Where The Devil’s Found,”—an ominous warning about how not to soothe a broken heart—the song is as steeped in outlaw Country as corn mash whisky.

Which is what makes Travelin’ On so damn good. Instead of merely exorcising everything about Virginia and the rest of the South from her life, Martin has managed the delicate task of separating what she loves (in this case, musical tones) from the regressive nature of the region’s politics. The result is a genuine new country: true to its roots, musically, with lyrics that recognize the diversity of life and love in the 21st century.

While lyrically and musically the album is a joy, what really distinguishes Martin’s work is her voice. There are vocalists who can sound like they’re singing through gravel and others who ring clear as a bell, but there aren’t many who can manage both so convincingly. Amy Martin has the ability to let her voice get down and roll in the mud when need be, and in the next instance become as uplifting and beautiful as a bird in flight.

If you compare the aforementioned “Where The Devil’s Found” with the beautiful love song she wrote for her partner, “Good Morning Beautiful,” it’s hard to believe they are sung by the same person. For while she growls out the lyrics to the former, on the latter her voice is filled with the wonder of love. “Good Morning Beautiful” is filled with such joy, it lifts your spirits just listening to the tones of her voice, lyrics aside.

Of course the other remarkable feature about Martin’s voice is her range. While she gives us an early indication of this on the album’s third song, “Dance With You,” it’s on “Good Morning Beautiful” that she outright takes your breath away. Not only is she able to send her voice up and down the scales seemingly without effort, her control is remarkable. No artifice, no affectation—just pure and beautiful music. To paraphrase an old saying, ‘you want to hope someone will sing for you like that someday.’

Amy Martin’s Travelin’ On is about the joy and pain of moving on… from failed love, from illusions of home, from unfortunate pit-stops and joyous discoveries along the way. Even positive changes can be difficult experiences. Through these seven tracks she captures almost every little nuance of those situations and brings them to life: the bravery and the fear to take the steps required, the exhilaration of making that leap into the dark. A crowd-funded album into which the artist poured every penny and every ounce of feeling she could muster, Travelin’ On will hopefully encourage all of us to make the changes we need to, for ourselves and for the world around us.


Richard Marcus has been writing about music, films, and books since 2005. He’s published three books commissioned by Ulysses Press. He currently edits the Books section at Blogcritics.org and is a regular contributor to Qantara.de. He lives in Kingston, Ontario Canada with his feral accomplice and their cat.