On a small corner lot in southeast Portland, Oregon, Jeffrey Martin holed up through the winter recording his quietly potent new album Thank God We Left The Garden. Long nights bled into mornings in the tiny shack he built in the backyard, eight feet by ten feet. What began as demos meant for a later visit to a proper studio became the album itself, spare and intimate and true. Recorded live and alone around two microphones, Jeffrey often held his breath to wait for the low diesel hum of a truck to pass one block over on the busy thoroughfare. During the coldest nights, he timed recording between the clicks of the oil coil heater cycling on and off.
Martin’s fourth full length album, Thank God We Left The Garden comes out on Portland’s beloved Fluff and Gravy Records Nov __. He produced and engineered it himself, recalling, “There was a magic quality to the sounds I was getting in the shack with these two cheap microphones, some lucky recipe of time and place that allowed my voice and the way I play guitar and the shape of these new songs to come together with the kind of honesty I was craving.”
So much has happened in the world since the release of his previous album One Go Around (heralded by No Depression as ‘the poetry of America’), and Jeffrey has filled the time doggedly, but happily, touring the US and Europe, watching it all unfold in a stream of small town conversations and city sprawl. In a moment where depth is so often traded for the instantaneous, where tech billionaires are building rockets to escape the planet, where the dead-eyed stare of artificial intelligence is promising to existentially upend our world, and where divisiveness in our culture is breeding delusional levels of certainty, Jeffrey Martin’s new record feels like a hopeful and fully human antidote.
There are holes in all the side walls where the wind it brings the rain in
And the gold crowns have been found out to be brass that has been painted
There are holes in all our bibles where we make secret compartments
To hide the broken treasures we smuggled out of the garden -Quiet Man
The sounds feel warm, close, and refreshingly real, all held up by the richness and rare candor of Jeffrey’s voice. Production is restrained mostly to his guitar and vocals, with flashes of classical guitar for a tumbling wash of melody and low end color. Martin’s voice sits high above everything, reaching into new melodic territory that goes beyond his earlier work. “I feel like I’ve only just learned how to sing,” Martin said. “Like I’ve been chasing this record since my very first recordings. I wanted to really see what I could do, just my guitar and my voice and little else. I don’t think it was conscious. I think maybe it was a reaction to the pace of life these days. The churning news and entertainment and politics and violence of it all. I needed to know that even in this day and age, just a few simple ingredients still hold up.”
Beloved Portland-based guitarist Jon Neufeld added electric guitar to three tracks. Sticking to the same less-ismore approach, his playing skillfully and subtly elevates the lyrical intention. Neufeld’s touch is best displayed on Red Station Wagon, a searing story about one man’s transformation from a narrow-minded bigot into a person who feels deep remorse for the ugliness of his youth. In his transformation he discovers the clarity of empathy and compassion. The devastating and redemptive four minute song contains the emotional arch of an entire film, and each turn is beautifully punctuated by Neufeld’s guitar. In addition to his guitar work, Neufeld mixed and mastered the album, and was such a crucial part of the final feel of the record that Martin also credited him as a producer.
“Jon and I really produced this album together,” he said. “Me in the shack, and then him in his studio working with what I brought him as he mixed and mastered. It was such a treat to work with him. I brought this pile of rough songs and he was able to dial it in and make up for my complete lack of recording know-how. I love the performances I got, but Jon’s magic is what helped them breathe and truly come to life.”
No less lyrically weighty than his previous work, Thank God We Left The Garden holds a new kindness and easy solace that feels timeless and full of generosity. The title is a paradoxical nod to Martin’s own spiritual conclusions, a theme that is subtly woven throughout the album. The son of a pastor, he touches on his religious upbringing then carries us well beyond his past where the weight of his deepest questions are free to unfold.
“It’s always bothered me how uptight religion gets around the messiness of our human natures, always trying to tell people they’re broken and flawed from the get go. The only God I can imagine is one who is overjoyed with the mess. Who revels in the edgeless mystery. I imagine hanging around with angels all day gets boring pretty fast. So maybe we got the story wrong. Maybe we were supposed to leave the Garden all along. Maybe that was the first good thing we ever did. After all, I can’t think of anything that has an ounce of meaning or dimension that doesn’t come from failure.”
This is an album that craves your full attention, best experienced as a whole. Each song further illuminates the scene until you find yourself resting in the strangely comforting tangle of aliveness and meaning (and full spectrum of being alive./what it means to be alive.). At its core Thank God We Left The Garden is an album made of questions, humble and nuanced, a reverent celebration of the asking.
In my mind there’s a garden, full of beauty and darkness
Full of sorrow and sweet things where my heart can be honest
In that garden there’s a fruit tree and I eat from it daily
The same that Adam and Eve ate what does that make me? -Garden
Whether singing about his own internal landscape, telling a story of someone else’s, or reflecting on the elusive relationship between scarcity and contentment, Martin’s writing never pushes the listener away, never points a finger. He sings of things we can all pin a memory on, holding the rough shorn gem of human experience up to the light.
There’s a treasure that we all know but we can’t have it It’s a place beyond the measure of our minds
It is where we go when we forget we’re living It is where we go when we forget we die . . .
And all the tools we use to feel important they are useless as a sailboat in the sky
Where old bones and heart aches are forgotten It’s a place we don’t have words to describe
The sun will rise like it always does on the day that I die
The world will spin, the sun will go on burning
Never even knowing I was alive
-There Is A Treasure
Thank God We Left the Garden will be released on Fluff and Gravy Records in the fall of 2023. Subsequent touring will carry Jeffrey Martin through all of the US, Canada, and Europe.