Jeff Martin, Idaho's singer/songwriter, is a master of the subtle gesture that reveals the entire life. On Hearts of Palm, Idaho's fifth studio album, Martin strums his custom four-string guitar and sings in his raspy Neil Young/Bill Callahan tenor about life's unsolvable mysteries, and times to be savored but not possessed. The minor-key ruminations especially shine on the piano-driven opener, "To Be the One," gaining steam and weight with each verse. The songs carry the structure of an elegy: lament, consolation, bad news followed by good. Since 1996's feedback-fueled Three Sheets to the Wind, Idaho has quieted down without quelling its demons. The rotating cast of players is a duo on Hearts of Palm, with Dan Seta on guitars and Jeff Martin playing all other instruments. The album is like one of those deep, prolonged dreams in which moods and images hang together with a kind of emotional logic and continuity.
The Stranger (Seattle)
It's time to get some sunlight. See the light before I begin to listen, 'cause these guys can bring me down. In the best way, though... music to listen to when you're feeling like a thunderstorm.The studio CD, Hearts Of Palm, is a completely different incarnation of Idaho than the live CD, though still as heart wrenching, Jeff Martin still filling the space with narcotic vocals and that guitar that slides smooth into your skin. He also takes on the bass and drums and everything else, except for some drum tracks laid down by Joey Waronker. Dan Seta takes over the guitars that fall blanket-like over the songs, fading in and out and through you. Slightly more upbeat than Low, more atmosphere than Codeine, but with the same heaviness. It feels like the shadows you get on every sun-filled day. Winter music for rainy people.
The first thing that hits me is the piano. Simple, spare, gorgeous; laid in a bed of subtle electronics. And then the drums kick in. And finally, Jeff Martin's voice. Before the first song is over I realize that this isn't quite the same Idaho I've come to know and love over the years. This is better. There's more space, more depth, more detail. Martin has shifted focus from the band's signature four-string guitar buzz to his singing and, ultimately, to the songs
- Tony Peltier