On Barnyard

Nate Dorward, Paris Transatlantic, 12 décembre 2008

The Martin-Haynes duet album Freedman is the oddest of the bunch. Haynes is on ukulele throughout, and Martin’s kit is simply a suitcase. (Do musicians still play on suitcases in hotel-room jam sessions these days? It’s a sound familiar to anyone who’s got a copy of the old Bird on Tenor session….) The setlist consists of seventeen tunes by Myk Freedman, the lap-steel player who masterminds the St. Dirt Elementary School (local faves at the Tranzac Club). There are no feats of Jake Shimabukuro-style uke virtuosity here, just a gentle ramble through Freedman’s ought-to-be-standards: lazybones serenades, plingy dance music, miniature Chadbournesque string-violence, shuffle-and-thump grooves, ghostly Oriental ditties and faux-bossa. The players are recorded in tight close-up, which makes the uke sound splendid and gives everything an intimacy that’s as affecting as bittersweet melodies like “Love Boat of Love”. Haynes plays with a laidback charm and grace, occasionally letting things drift whimsically off-course, and (as on all these albums) Martin’s ability to get a huge sonic variety out of next to nothing is uncanny. It’s good-humoured music, but they’re not playing it for laughs or kitsch; it might sound like a gimmicky premise for a CD, but give it a try and it’ll pleasantly surprise you.

Martin’s ability to get a huge sonic variety out of next to nothing is uncanny