Sunday, December 12, 2010

Marti Jones 1984-2008

Marti Jones has an exceptional alto voice that rivals Linda Ronstadt's, but with a more organic feel. Her songwriting with husband Don Dixon is quality stuff, and the song selection of covers is first-rate. Dixon's production is perfect every time. Her interpretations of other songwriters material are spot-on every time.

Marti's first recording was a six-song EP by the pop-rock band Color Me Gone in 1984. The heartfelt pop vocals that would become her trademark are already on display, but the band never took off.

Marti's first solo record was produced by Don Dixon, as were all of her subsequent records. They married not long after the record was made. Unsophisticated Time 1985 is a fine start. Walk Away, Follow You All Over The World, Hiding The Boy, The Element Within Her are all standouts. The record has a slightly more folk feel than later releases, but it's all here, even on the debut. The voice, the songs, the arrangements.

A&M and Dixon pulled out all the stops for Match Game in 1986. A big-budget recording with great players and guest stars, songs from Dwight Twilly, Elvis Costello, David Bowie and Paul Rogers along with Dixon's finest, but nothing detracts from Marti. Her voice is clear and beautiful, and Inside These Arms, We're Doing Alright, Just A Memory, Soul Love and Be Myself Again are all top notch. I love the big rock sound of the record- it's the only time they did one like this, and it's a fine setting for her voice.

Next it was 1988's Used Guitars. Dixon and Jones' Tourist Town starts things off swinging. John Hiatt's The Real One rocks like Rondstadt never could, while Graham Parker's You Can't Take Love For Granted gets a highly percussive arrangement from Dixon that's fun and just right. Jackie DeShannon's Each Time and Hiatt's If I Can Love Somebody are both terrific readings of fine songs. That this record didn't turn her into a star is almost impossible to believe. A similar blend of folk, rock and pop tunesmith worked great for Shawn Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

In 1990 it was off to RCA for Any Kind Of Lie, another fine outing, this time featuring the songs Dixon and Jones were writing together. The core band of Jamie Hoover (guitar), Dixon (bass and lots of stuff), Jones (guitar), Jim Brock (percussion extraordinaire), and Denny Fongheiser (drums) show off great Dixon-Jones songs Living Inside The Wind, Any Kind Of Lie, My Tears Are Poison, Read My Heart and Is This The Game? Again, there just seemed to be no market for the kind of intelligent pop-rock craft on display, but I'll be darned if I could tell you why. The bizarre hair and make-up of the cover (aimed squarely at the burgeoning Adult Contemporary market) may have frightened off any fan that had seen the wonderfully unassuming Marti live.

After that one also did not bring stardom, Marti decided to take a few years off and have a baby. She returned in 1996 with My Long-Haired Life, a reference to her shorter, motherly locks of the previous few years. It's another fabulous record. Focusing on a generous selection of covers, her brilliant interpretations of Nick Lowe's I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass, Squeeze's Black Coffee In Bed, Aimee Mann's Put Me On Top, and Elvis Costello's Sleep Of The Just are all super. Her own It's Not What I Want and several other by Marti and Don are just as good.

Also in 1996, Live At Spirit Square was released. This might be my favorite live record ever. Recorded in 1990 in Charlotte to a Dixon home-town crowd, the song selection is an impeccable greatest hits plus best songs from her catalog, even while it features Any Kind Of Lie, the new release of the time. The sound is excellent. The band of Jones on acoustic guitar, Dixon on bass and vocals, Jamie Hoover on lead guitar and vocals (one of the best, and most fun to watch, guitarists on the planet), Jim Brock on percussion, and Tom Wilhelm on drums is the tightest band ever. Really. Ever. The different texture of each song is voiced in the arrangements and playing in a way that is remarkable. You really should hear it if you have any interest in a fine female voice and great songwriting in combination.

In 2002 came My Tidy Doily Dream. Another fine record, this one features new songs by Dixon and Jones with several guest writing partners. Compared to the her previous work, this one is pretty mellow, but not the worse for it. You just need to adjust to a more delicate sound, sort of like recent Kim Richey or Aimee Mann records. Always, Innocent Kiss, Slave, and So Lonesome I Could Fly are standouts. There are a few too many slow ballads among the rest of the songs for it to be my favorite, but when I'm in the mood for introspection...

In 2008 Don and Marti released Lucky Stars: Lullabies For Old Souls as a download only under both of their names. A mixture of some nice new songs and quite a few instrumental themes, it works as the piece of art-folk it is. Gentile folk songs inspired by love and family, it's a bit twee occasionally, but it also includes some fine moments in Lucky Stars, When I Saw You, and Watching Closely.

I've seen Marti and Don many times live in Cleveland (they live in Marti's NE Ohio hometown), usually with Hoover and Brock rounding out the band, and they are always excellent live. Marti has apparently retired to paint, but if they ever come around, you'll have a good time and see a fine show. You can't go wrong with Used Guitars, Any Kind Of Lie, My Long-Haired Life or Live At Spirit Square. Pick one up- you're in for a treat.

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