Martha Spencer’s approach to old time music is as authentic as her life itself. Growing up in the mountains of Virginia, she was raised around various forms of Appalachian sounds. Her life and musical experience has helped her write new compositions, half of which are featured on her second solo release, Wonderland.
Wonderland is an album that varies in style and instrumentation. The title track, written by Spencer, is a piece with heavy swing influence. This is especially evident in the performance of fiddler Joel Savoy. Rags Over Riches is performed more in the old time vein with flawless clawhammer style banjo from Spencer and solid backing vocals from Dudley Connell.
Banks Of New River by Emily Spencer and Argil Hensley is fittingly done in a traditional bluegrass style. Reminiscent of the Stanley Brothers, this duet between Martha and country singer Luke Bell, whom we tragically lost this year, is one of the most memorable pieces on the recording.
Summer Wine by Lee Hazelwood is another old time piece which features the unique bass voice of Kyle Dean Smith. Speaking of unique, Martha’s rendition of Walking In Jerusalem would definitely fit into that category. Combining Alex Leach’s Stanley style banjo playing, along with the vocals of the Legendary Ingramettes, this track is an unbelievable blend of traditional bluegrass and gospel music.
Enchantress, another original by Spencer, is spooky in a melodic sense. This is punctuated by Kyle Dean Smith’s performance on the cello banjo. Hesitation Blues, recorded by Charlie Poole under the title If The River Was Whiskey in 1930, is given a fresh duet treatment by Spencer and Bell. This track features great instrumental performances from fiddler Billy Hurt Jr., as well as Matt Kinman on mandolin.
The project closes with Midsummer Serenade, an instrumental composed by Spencer. This is another track that does a marvelous job of showcasing her skill as a clawhammer banjoist.
Wonderland demonstrates Martha Spencer’s ability to utilize musical tradition along with new and creative ideas. The project’s title is a great reflection of the journey Spencer and her fellow musicians take us on with this collection of traditional acoustic music.