by Craig Howieson
The Bear is a masterclass in understated Americana – proving that hope and wonder are never out of reach
Throughout Walter Martin’s solo career he has always told it how it is. Whether via the plaintive nuggets of wisened life lessons interwoven in his records tailored to a younger audience, or the mid-life musings that made up the fabulously inclusive Reminisce Bar & Grill, he has never shied away from being a straight shooting voice that you can rely on. His latest album, The Bear, continues this tradition and may not just be his most truthful, but also his best record to date.
It is an album full of light and shade – the dew-covered optimism of the opening notes of Baseball Diamonds to the dusk time reckoning of Easter – and his lyrics draw from the well of a life like all others, constantly shifting and still to be figured out. Martin’s voice shifts effortlessly from softly spoken passages to crooning melodies, and evokes a personal conversational quality, like treading the floorboards of an attic while the world’s best band plays downstairs. And the quality of his words should not distract from the music. Enlisting the talents of composer, Emile Mosseri, as well as the likes of Harrison Whitford, Eric D. Johnson and Josh Kaufman, The Bear is somewhat of a masterclass in understated Americana – with every element perfectly placed and given its own space to flourish.
Martin is of an age now that bigger questions about life and meaning perhaps hang heavier than they once did. The Bear represents this contemplative state of mind and is as focused on goodbyes as it hellos. But it also relishes in the beauty of the memories we can cling to, and the way in which they can shape our present; the fact that each day is a new opportunity, and hope and wonder are never out of reach. The record’s sublime closing track, The Song Is Never Done, is a celebration of this. Accompanied by a trill of guitar and the faintest touch of piano keys, we follow Martin into a summer scorched picture of his past, and accompany him to the present day where tomorrow is as vital as it ever was.
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