A welcomed return to original composition, Twain is more a sequel to 2008’s The Growing Season than 2010’s all-standards set When I Was Long Ago. Rebecca Martin is a singer-songwriter more than an interpreter, and although she proved skilled at recasting familiar material in her own dusky, guileless voice on the last record—there is one cover on the new one, Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”—it was a detour. It’s her elucidation of her own words that best defines her, and Twain may be Martin’s most intimate and affecting collection to date.
Working, as she has for the past several years, with bassist/husband Larry Grenadier, plus keyboardist Pete Rende and drummer Dan Rieser, Martin doesn’t veer notably from the equal parts folk, jazz and pop mix that’s defined her since her emergence. She’s most comfortable in the company of a minimally adorned ballad, songs like “God Is in the Details” and “Some Other Place, Some Other Time” that put her vocal delivery and acoustic guitar upfront and the accompanists at arm’s length. There’s a new serenity to those ballads, a settling into her own skin that was only really starting to become evident with The Growing Season.
A few times, though, Martin breaks up the quietude and picks up the pace, giving the others, Grenadier in particular, space to stretch. “On a Rooftop” practically rocks in comparison to the rest—its solid thump gives Martin’s semi-opaque lyrics an electrical charge—and “Safe This Time” neatly juxtaposes a nearly cheerful melody with a tale of fragility.