Amy Martin, |
September 2001 was a month of change for the United States. Attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., left thousands dead and many people, even those hundreds of miles away, panic-stricken. Americans joined the rest of the world that has experienced devastating terrorist attacks. Fear gripped people, and war began the next month as the U.S. started dropping bombs on Afghanistan. Newspapers quoted some Americans as saying that the United States should "bomb them back to the middle ages," whilst other Americans told the same reporters that Afghanistan, due to weathering a war with the Soviets and then their own civil war, had already been bombed that badly.
Amy Martin is one of those aforementioned other Americans. Her second album, This Fall, is part of the The Harvest Project: Community Supported Art to Benefit Afghans; as the back cover clearly states, "all proceeds donated to The Afghan Institute of Learning and RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan). Martin states in the CD booklet that talking about peace isn't enough; "each of us can literally make peace, like we make bread, or furniture, or a song." With the songs on this album, Martin seems to be making her personal effort at making peace and to help enable others to do so also.
Recorded live, "using a minimum of microphones," the music sometimes sounds sparse. At times, it indeed has the feel of a '60s protest singer accompanied only by her acoustic guitar. "Ring Around," a song about the violence in the U.S., has that feel. In her chorus, she integrates words from the old plague rhyme "Ring Around the Roses" with the philosophy shared by thousands of movies: "Ashes, ashes, we all fall down/Shoot 'em up, chop 'em down/Bang bang you're dead/Ashes to ashes to ashes, we all fall down."
Martin sets the scene for this song by starting off the album with an extract from science-fiction writer Ursula K. LeGuin's translation of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching; Lao Tzu and LeGuin's words, sung along to Martin's music, appear twice more at appropriate moments. The second time, they are positioned between "Prayer to Mamagod" and "My Fellow Americans," and the third time is between "September" and the closing song, "First Snow." "Prayer to Mamagod" questions Martin's own violent tendencies, with the decisive answer that "you can't fight war with war/you can't stop violence with violence." "My Fellow Americans" asks if people of the United States know that their tax money supports paramilitary groups in Colombia. Accompanied only by her piano, Martin remembers a past September when "peace knew my name/and I knew hers" in "September." The healing quality of snow is celebrated in "First Snow," hinting that there will be a chance for human beings to change.
This release is a worthy effort; Martin has not hit the sophomore slump with it. However, there are times when her work is a little heavy-handed, which is a shame. She generally is preaching to the choir; new fans probably will be those who share her political beliefs. That said, perhaps she figures that if even one pro-war advocate thinks twice about his stance after having heard one of her songs, she's done her job. As she sings, "look into your own heart/you have to start there/to make peace in a world at war."