Martha Scanlan has been touring and headlining festivals across the U.S. and Europe since the release of her critically acclaimed Sugar Hill debut, The West Was Burning. Her newest project, Tongue River Stories, is a collection of songs about belonging and place. It comes out of her recent relative hiatus from the road, where she has been immersed in living and working on a hundred year-old ranch in the southeast corner of Montana, one of the last and truest strongholds of a uniquely American cowboy culture.
Martha first gained national recognition for her songwriting at the prestigious Chris Austin songwriting contest at Merlefest in 2004, where she won awards in two categories. With the Reeltime Travelers, she was featured on the soundtrack for the film Cold Mountain, produced by Grammy Award winner T-Bone Burnett. Since then she has collaborated and shared the stage with a variety of roots musicians including Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm, Ollabelle, Black Prairie, Ralph Stanley and Norman and Nancy Blake.
Her song “Little Bird Of Heaven”, was recently featured in celebrated American novelist Joyce Carol Oates’ latest book by the same name.
Martha Scanlan’s first solo album, The West Was Burning , featuring production by gifted multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell and spirited performances by Levon Helm (of The Band) and Amy Helm, was met with critical acclaim:
“A revelation, an instant classic and one of those rare albums that defies genre and generation. Scanlan evokes western landscapes as effectively as Georgia O’Keefe did on canvass.” - Dirty Linen
Generally when an artist receives the kind of critical acclaim that Martha Scanlan did for her solo debut, the normal course of action is a quick follow up to build on the success of the first.
Martha Scanlan's Tongue River Stories is well worth the wait, a stunning and stark portrait of one of the last truest vestiges of the west, and somehow a natural progression from The West Was Burning. Where The West Was Burning may have evoked western landscapes, Tongue River Stories takes the listener deep into the heart of the landscape itself; the meadows and cottonwood groves and decades-old cabin where the songs were written and recorded, a world so vast and quiet that such on-site recording is possible.
Songs for this project were born out of a landscape where arrowheads lie next to fossils next to hundred-year-old cedar fence posts alongside tracks of horses set rock solid in the mud from the last good rain. Stories inside of stories inside of stories.
The gift of a great storyteller is the bringing of the listener into the story, and the story into the listener. It's not just the words of the songs in this collection that provide that rare lasting transformative alchemy that has become so characteristic of Martha Scanlan's work, and earned her the small loyal cult following that seems to be steadily growing. It’s the space between the words, the sound of the place itself.