Either one of these artists would be worth turning out for, even worth dragging into a heat soaked and sticky London evening, and wandering down the dust-blown streets of Camden Town. Yeah, even worth fighting with the recalcitrant and sauna like Northern Line. The first on stage, Anna Tivel, has been steadily building a reputation as simply one of the finest songwriters – her powerful songs, delicate of lyric, breathless of delivery are each perfect creations that can pull the listener up sharp. There are musings on the briefly observed lives of strangers, there are stories of broken hopeless loves, there’s self-destructive anger, there’s the final whispery tendrils of breath that close a life. Anna Tivel is not your everyday singer of boy meets girl under the silvery moon. Jeffrey Martin is a complete contrast to Anna Tivel, a space filling presence where she is slight, gruff where she is calm and soft spoken. Maybe not a complete contrast – his songs are harder hewn than hers but they are similarly well hewn.
Anna Tivel’s songs are the holy grail we’re always searching for from our singer-songwriters. They have the power to connect, they can describe events so small that they seem almost insignificant – but at same time they are universal concerns which mean that they matter more than anything. They are poetry – there it’s been said. Outsiders often feature – the person living outside society’s norms, or the person guarding a border, and the person trying to cross it. And then there’s the song that Anna Tivel laughingly attributes to an ongoing Springsteen obsession:’Dark Chandeliers‘. And it does have all hallmarks of a Springsteen song – the crushing defeat of the man out of work, cars racing in the streets, anger and the apparent freedom of the road. ‘Dark Chandelier‘, however, is the inverse-Springsteen – both the car and the road are false friends, and high speed drunk driving in heavy rain is the precursor to an inevitable crash. The blessing is that angry rage is no match for the love of, and for, a wife and a daughter, the love that pulls a man from the brink of death. The cinematic way the tale unfolds is gripping – the slow build, the frantic verbal flash cuts that describe the crash – and then the thin thread of redemption that dangles at the end of the song, like a daring nod to ‘It’s a wonderful life‘. To meld the documentary with the sentimental without the aftertaste of saccharine makes ‘Dark Chandelier‘ a notable song of depth and beauty. In case you’re wondering, Anna Tivel does sing other songs on this evening – the new songs are extraordinary and an indication that the upcoming album at the end of the year is going to be a triumph. Her set closer – ‘Blue World‘ – is another song of epic beauty, remarkably drawn from life inspired by Anna Tivel’s Grandmother’s passing. Clearly a big part of her life, Anna Tivel describes her as a feisty 99 year old who went when she wanted to, and the song honours this perception “there’s a shine to a night like this / and the way your body moves / and the lines of your silhouette / and the rise of your fragile bones / and the lift of the whispered wind / and a song that you never heard / and you’re riding on silver wings / and you’re leaving the blue world.” Did someone mention poetry?
Jeffrey Martin’s songs are observed with somewhat more detachment – or alternatively they cling harder to the authorial ‘I‘ to suggest the autobiographical. His delivery is powerful, a gruff vocal that demands to be taken seriously, at-odds with slightly stumbling between song explanations. His words can be a scourge: ‘Thief and a Liar‘ from his recent release ‘Build a Home‘ has an echo of current affairs in its depiction of a thief who starts petty and builds up to being ‘suits and ties and cocaine crazy within‘ who has to ‘lie to go to bed and lie to wake up / to forget the voices of the dead you got to play tough‘. The title track, adorned with Anna Tivel’s delicate violin playing, is a gentle declaration that “beyond the mud and rust and all the broken bones” a better life can be grasped. It’s love that holds out this redemption, why shouldn’t it be? “I’m in love with a woman” Jeffrey Martin reveals “and she makes me want to build a home“. Proffering love as the end to a rootless existence, and family as the balm to poverty – it’s a genuinely lovely song. For all the light there’s as much shade – ‘Hand on a Gun‘ is a slow song, despairing of humanity’s ability to see pain and injustice and then turn away. ‘October Dark’ ratchets up the bleakness – the conjoined sadness of a mother who has been in and out of prison – and the daughter who has only intermittently had a mother. Not easy listens, but thoughtful and in their own way beautiful as well as bleak.
It’s quite a pairing of singers, it’s an evening of superb songs in the Green Note’s famously intimate and attentive room.