One of the joys of reviewing is picking an artist you’ve not heard before and realising you’ve been missing out. Southern White Lies, the second album from Martha Fields certainly falls into this category. It’s a glorious procession of Americana, Country and Blues but delivered with lyrics that steer well clear of apple pie and are not afraid to look at the darker underbelly of life and challenge the American Dream. Martha hails from Austin, Texas, but has a family history of music stretching back to the Appalachians of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia so the pedigree is certainly there and used to good effect on the album.
My immediate port of call was the title track ‘Southern White Lies’ because it has an ambiguity about it; are these white lies from the south or lies relating to the southern white, which has a very different interpretation? It turns out to be both. The South is, in turn, treated with suspicion
“Rest of the world sees us full of hate, Don’t mess with Texas – it’s too late”
whilst being used to further the aims of others to its own detriment.
“Big box [UK = superstore] killed all them mom and pops, Big man gets all the handouts”.
This feeling of injustice and not getting a fair roll of the dice occurs throughout the album. In particular the final track ‘American Hologram’ is a protest song with real strength of feeling, again with reference to the real sense of social inequality felt in the Southern states whilst also criticising the right wing commentators who try to capitalise on that.
“I’m a blue state girl with red state roots,
We were poor white trash… now we’re the underclass
They send us to war, we don’t know what for
We got no jobs so we come back for more”
“No need for education, no money for schools
Easier for Limbaugh, to play ’em like the fool”.
It isn’t all protest, though. There’s plenty of other material to both attract and enjoy and Martha isn’t afraid to dip into tradition when it represents her roots. ‘What Are They Doing In Heaven?’ is an American Methodist hymn from the early 1900s given a real country feel with fiddle and steel guitar. The blues are not ignored either, with a cracking up-beat version of Janice Joplin’s ‘What Good Can Drinking Do’ amongst others.
Martha’s voice has that distinctive southern drawl which suits these songs well and has been compared by more than one person to Loretta Lynn. Backed by a band that enhances, rather than competes with, the lyrics this is an album which will appeal to anybody interested in modern American roots music and is highly recommended.
The album can be downloaded from the artist’s website or usual sources although I have been unable to track down a physical version, which does exist.
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Artist’s website: http://texasmartha.com/
‘Dead End’ – live at the O2, London: