On Martha Fields‘ 2014 debut album Long Way From Home, she was trading under the soubriquet of Texas Martha, but here, working with her French four piece band, The House of Twang, providing fiddle, double bass, banjo, mandola and resonator, Martha Fields Galloway is going by her given name.
Born in Appalachia, but, descended from Texan/Okie stock on her father’s side, she has a powerful set of lungs with a gutsy drawl that’s seen her likened to Lucinda Williams and Bobbie Gentry, a keen affinity for country blues and mountain ballads as well as the ability kick up barroom storm when the occasion demands.
Conceived as a Southern Gothic opera, Southern White Lies addresses love, loss, poverty, mortality and injustice on a collection of self-penned songs, traditional numbers and covers. Originally featured on the previous album, Do As You Are Told, a song written about her Aunt Letha Mae Fields, about a generation of women who were expected to know their place, is reprised here in a new arrangement that, driven by banjo, favours a more bluegrass approach than the original’s rockabilly and gospel. Her other original contributions are all new, headed up by spooked blues opener Soul On The Move and moving through the bluesy Appalachian walking beat strum of Dead End with its fine resonator solo, the fiddle-led rattling rhythm stomp of Hard Times and, with its gypsy violin flavours, the moody title track’s unflinching look at the social inequities of American south, and Texas in particular from a remove (she’s now based in France) as she sings of how “Big box killed all them mom and pops, Big man gets all the handouts.”
The mid-section of the album is all covers material, first up being a gutsy country-blues take on Janis Joplin’s booze lament/addiction What Good Can Drinkin’ Do. This is followed by the romping trad bluegrass gospel Lonesome Road Blues, an uptempo bluegrass arrangement of Mickey Newbury’s Why You Been Gone So Long, here retitled as Tell Me Baby, Jimmy Rogers chugger California Blues with its brushed drums and dobro. Completing the package is What Are They Doing In Heaven, the traditional Methodist hymn written in 1901 by Charles Albert Tindley. It was first recorded by Washington Phillips in 1928 and subsequently covered by numerous artists, among them Mavis Staples, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Dixie Hummingbird and, on the soundtrack to French TV series Les Revenants, even Scottish post-rock outfit Mogwai.
The album ends with two more Fields originals, the dobro accompanied lilting Americana of the loss and sadness drenched Where Do We Go Now and, introed with plucked fiddle and featuring snap tapping percussion, a return to the theme of social injustice on American Hologram, contained anger in her voice and lyrics as, referencing right wing American shock jock Rush Limbaugh, she sings about the designation of those from red state roots as a white trash underclass, denied education, unable to get jobs and sent off to war as cannon fodder.
It’s taken a fair few years for Fields to go from playing on the family front porch and around the local bars to making the transition to a recording studio and a wider audience, but she’s making up for lost time with a vengeance and, on the evidence of her two released to date, has the potential to become a very significant name in Americana roots music.
Released this week, Martha Fields will also be touring the UK in 2017