Martin McNulty Crane V comes from a long line of exceptional Martins. There’s an orphan who became attorney general of Texas and fought the KKK, a lieutenant who fought in WWI, an airline pilot who raised his family in Iran, and a scientist. Our Martin Crane, who now records as Brazos, is on track to become a leading musical light, with a burning creative mind and a searching soul.
Brooklyn (by way of Austin) -based Brazos gained recognition in 2009 with Crane’s self-released debut album, Phosphorescent Blues. The album was hewn around ‘The Observer,’ the 1969 Adrienne Rich poem Crane put to music. From the bouncy, free-formed vocal phrasing of that adaptation grew a style that combined raw energy and dance rhythms with the subtle intricacies of jazz and folk.
On Brazos’ new album, Saltwater, Crane’s acoustic guitar, Spencer Zahn’s warm bass lines, and Ian Chang’s frenetic, melodic drumming were all recorded live. Over several months, Crane added and refined layers of pianos, synths, guitars and production embellishment. The multi-talented Sandro Perri mixed the final arrangements into a quixotic melange that is both understated and startlingly honest.
Like a stunning spring morning, Saltwater is buoyant, expansive pop, with an astonishingly sure hand of craftsmanship. Gestated in an atmosphere of listening to “transcendent groove music” (Pharaoh Sanders, Can, Harmonia, Fela Kuti, among others) Crane brings a light and lilting poise and unique perspective, mixed with the emotional urgency of The Walkmen, a James Mercer timbre, and a wry, unencumbered sense of being, a la Deerhunter or Cass McCombs.
Opening track ‘Always On’ begins mid-synth swirl blast, plunging the listener into a dervish of melody and a frenetic beat. ‘Charm’ jumps down a notch to a loping, staccato groove and seeing-stars joie-de-vivre. By track three ‘How the Ranks Was Won,’ the cascades of melodic joy have been translated into a tale about the voyage of a ghost ship and its descendants. The title track ‘Saltwater’, inspired by Melville’s Moby Dick, holds its tempo, just barely reined in, with spirals of guitar, swells of organ and explosions of percussion threatening to erupt, while Crane’s salty caramel vocal is warm and emphatic.
This is our Martin Crane – the restless, yearning, young musical adventurer – balancing raging power, with a lovely articulation of deep feelings.
He has no tattoos.