Marteka & William have been keeping good company of late while winning contests and kudos in the process. They’ve shared stages with J.D. Crowe and Melvin Goins of the Goins Brothers, and appeared on such popular programs as PBS’ Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour and The Wheeling Jamboree USA. Two albums in, the young siblings are paving a path back towards traditional bluegrass, eschewing any notion of posturing or pretense in the process.
On their second outing, inauspiciously titled No Title…, they bank on the familiarity factor by leaning heavily on classic covers — Nine Pound Hammer, The Ballad of Jed Clampett, Georgia Buck, Head Over Heels, and Home Sweet Home, among them. Their take on those tunes doesn’t vary significantly from the original renditions, finding them alternating for the most part between a rag and a ramble. The band — consisting of namesakes Marteka Bowman (banjo, vocals) and William Lake (guitar, bass, mandolin, lead vocals), plus Charley Lake (bass), Corrina Rose Logston Stephens (fiddle), and Kirk Bowman (harmony vocals, mandolin) — excel through both instrumental interplay and close-cropped harmonies that weave and intertwine. Marteka and William may appear to be of a tender age, but they’re clearly wooed by the tried and true, and indeed, any of these songs would easily find a fit alongside any number of other seminal standards. Banjo and fiddle naturally come to the fore, but their’s is a well-rounded ensemble to be sure, and the group’s dedication to purpose brings with it a decided energy and authenticity.
Ultimately, No Title… proves impressive, not only for the effort involved, but also for Marteka & William’s determination not to be swayed by modern conceits. Granted, they’re traipsing well-trod ground, but in so doing, they’re also helping to preserve some timeless tradition that still deserves full due. Hearing them tear through Flatt and Scruggs’ Saro Jane at full throttle, or give new life to The Ballad of Jed Clampett with credibility and conviction affirms their ability to mine a timeless template. While some listeners these days may find themselves drawn to trendier tapestries, Marteka & William are reaping the rewards only the past can provide.