Jim Foley / On Line Review
This fourth album by Connecticut singer-songwriter Donna Martin constitutes a great leap from the 1994 "Call It Home," her second release and the last with which I am familiar, with elusive lyrics, catchy melodies and most significant, a coherent aural ecology, flawlessly realized in the production of its dozen songs. The tone is lanquid and lush, replete with precisely calibrated electric guitars, enhanced with tremolo, wahwah, and crystalline 12-string jangle, a tribute to Martin and her co-producer and guitarist, Jim Chapdelaine. Martin's vocal is reedy, often nearly whispered, with the sort of clipped effect derived from a forceful initial attack on a note, followed by retreat and return, occasionally suggestive of Patsy Cline. And "Ghost" is an appropriate title, the lyrics variously haunted, across time, distance, possibility, and the gap between fame and personal reality.
"Twenty Quick Fingers" is as much restrained as driven by its shuffle percussion and almost bluesy tremolo and wahwah guitars, which added to its suggestive but elliptical lyrics intimating an eccentric numerology of halves and doubles, yeilds a whimsical pertentousness, not an easy mood to invoke. "Wendy O." a requiem for Wendy O. Williams, singer for the Plasmatics and the loudest bleached blonde ever to detonate on a rock-n-roll stage, possesses a fragil beauty which seems a willful refusal to rise to its subject's "commotion," a delicate shower of bell-like acoustic and electric guitars culminating in a quietly dramatic instrumental bridge. In "Famous Face," just Martin and her quietly rolling finger-picked guitar, the lyrics are complex and compelling as Martin is haunted not only by her own history, but also by the parallel history of JFK Jr.'s media ghost ("I'm a girl you'll never know...But I swear you left a space).
In the title track, the past finds itself impotent to haunt the present, let alone the future, and the simple acoustic guitar figure and moody, minimal electric enhancements of "In the Blue Light" present a tale of melancholy urban nostalgia reminiscent of Peter Gallway's "All Over You." "Picture Memory" and Evergreen" are more explicit on the disappointments of memory, the former a slow march about the seductive sorrows of nostalgia, the latter slow, swinging, dark, and sad, slide guitar wailing in the background, a clouded realization that what survives its time is surely dead, "flesh and bone into ordinary stone." "Angelee" is a third-person portrait of a hidden soul, seeking only up to the borders of safety, surprisingly non-judgemental in its description of a life haunted by its own declined opportunities. Finally, there are two brief acoustic guitar instrumentals, guiet melodies suffused with a rural American nostalgia and melancholy worthy of Jay Unger and Molly Mason, and deployed strategically at the middle and the end of "Ghost."
"Ghost" is a well-crafed whole, music, lyrics, and production collaborating to produce a moody recording worth repeated listenings.
Ed McKeon / The Herald
Ghost - Donna Martin
Donna Martin's ability to write strong, beautiful, stirring songs continues to grow as her new album handily demonstrates.
"Ghost" showcases Martin's expressive voice and thoughtful compositions in a new light.
Aiming for an album with songs that were "simple and airy," she's created a template for singer-songwriters who want high production values that don't disguise the raw beauty of a song.
With able help from guitaist/producer Jim Chapdelaine and drummer Jon Peckman (who drummed on everything from his knees to a cardboard box), Martin delivers an entire album with a very clear signature.
She's discovered a style that suits her well, without a single up-tempo number, she explores the range of human emotion with grace, intellect and wit. And the pace doesn't wear on you once. She finds plenty of ghosts.
Whether it's punk rocker Wendy O. Williams or the nameless spirit who haunts a big city high rise, or the shadow of JFK junior ("Famous Face"), Martin's songs are populated by the specters of lost chances, technological horror and shared reminiscence.
She sings of a kind of small town hero who keeps the home fires burning warmly, and the frightened do-gooder who is afraid to leave her room. She sings about enduring love and broken hearts. She sings about people you and I know. Sturdy, rich, lovely songs. Beautiful songs.
This is the kind of album you'll buy for a friend, who will buy it for another. And maybe together we'll create the kind of audience for Martin that radio has forgotten how to create.
John Porter / Performing Songwriter Magazine
Ghost - Donna Martin
Sometimes I wonder what draws me into a recording and makes me care. Is it the lyric? The way it's presented? Is it the music? The way it's woven around those words? I know in this case its' a mix of all of the above.
Martin wrote all but one of the 12 songs here by herself. The one co-write was with Jim Chapdelaine, who also provides tasteful accompaniment on baritone guitar, cymbals, drum loops, electric guitar, E-bow, fretless bass, and slide guitar - whichever and wherever needed. Donna handles the acoustic guitar, electric tremolo, and vocal duties herself. Jon Peckman joins in on drums and percussion.
Martin's writing and her singing is wistful and personal. A singer-songwriter whose stories are colored by powers of observation and the frames she puts around them. The album features two solo acoustic guitar pieces. During both I found myself missing her voice and still hearing it at the same time.
Yep, all of the above.