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Martin Kerr Martin Kerr
Album: 'Better Than Brand-New
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 12

Born in the UK, raised in Canada and based in Edmonton, Kerr has done well for himself, being named male artist of the year at the Edmonton Music Awards and the album featuring in the Canada Album Sales Chart top 10. He's now looking to expand his horizons, which, given the exposure, shouldn't be too hard for an album that walks the poppier, radio-friendly side of the folk fence, a soulful voice that variously calls to mind early James Taylor, John Mayer and pre-bombast Chris De Burgh, easy on the ear melodies that know their way round a memorable hook and a chorus.

It eases its way in with the relaxed warmth of the romantic title track, but both 'Little Screens' and 'Not In Stores' show his spikier side, the 80s-coloured former with its bluesy guitar break a commentary on the way mobile phones take up our lives ("they told me buying this would give me time, so why have I become so vegetative?"), the latter a melodically catchy (including a mid-song dash of The Beatles) swipe at consumerism and the culture of disposability and instant gratification.

Apathy and jaded cynicism provide the roots of the cello-accompanied 'The Update', the fingerpicked acoustic 'My Old Shoes', a wistfully lovely song about loss of childhood innocence that has an air of a less warbly Cat Stevens while the midtempo, swelling, cello-backed ballad 'Disappear' strikes another note of weary resignation as winter draws in on a relationship.

A particular highlight is the fingerpicked acoustic 'Mr. Liao' (which also features erhu, a bowed two-string Chinese instrument), the story of a down-on-his luck migrant farmer that stems from a time spent teaching in China and seeing how the poor were treated. But there's not a weak track here, Kerr's performance (especially on the lyrically powerful refugees-themed piano ballad 'Millions Like Us') clearly not a case of going through the emotional paces, Just Another Man showing he has the musical muscle for the big halls as well as the more intimate venues.

There's one cover among the original material, one that shares the pervasive lyrical concerns, namely 'Lovers In A Dangerous Time'; its one of Bruce Cockburn's signature songs, so it's all the more impressive that Kerr turns it totally on its musical head, starting out as simple, uncluttered fingerpicked folk and gradually building to a rousing climax with a steady drum beat, electric guitar and backing choir, and makes it totally his own. That's the mark of a great artist.

Mike Davies