Martha Scanlan’s long-awaited third release, The Shape Of Things Gone Missing, The Shape Of Things To Come, is already being heralded as her best work yet. Given the beloved status of her first two records, that’s a tall order to fill.
Her 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
Martha Scanlan 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 the centerpiece of celebrated American novelist Joyce Carol Oates’ book by the same name.
The Shape Of Things Gone Missing, The Shape Of Things To Come is the result of a relative hiatus from the road; five years spent immersed in working and living on a 120 year-old small family cattle ranch in a remote corner of Southeastern Montana. Tongue River Stories was recorded on location there four years ago.
“I thought I was stepping back from music and writing,” says Scanlan, “but when these songs came together I realized that I have been writing them all along. There’s a beautiful congruence in music and working with cattle and horses- it’s all about the flow, finding the current in things. I was curious about how that would translate in the studio, how the landscape would come through.”
She couldn’t have found better company for such an endeavor; producer and long time musical collaborator Jon Neufeld brought fellow members of Black Prairie and the Decemberists, Dolorean and Amy Helm together into the studio for four short days. The record was mixed and mastered within ten.
“We wanted it to be a live, improvisational and collaborative process, to really let the current of the songs be the guide.”
The result is stunning.
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 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 current of things, the sound of the place itself.
Recorded at Type Foundry Studios in Portland, Oregon, The Shape Of Things Gone Missing, The Shape Of Things To Come was just released in April 2015.