Alana Amram’s haunting voice and interesting instrumentation mixed with the classic words of Vince Martin make Amram’s new album Snow Shadows: Songs of Vince Martin exceptional. This New York native was born the daughter of composer/beat icon David Amram and writer/actress Lora Lee, but somehow Amram still makes the album sound as if it came straight from the foot hills of the Smokey Mountains. Snow Shadows is an album made up of songs from across Vince Martins’ entire career. Martin used the musicians from Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline to help record the album. Amram used some of the same musicians and added a couple of her own.
Alana Amram takes the songs of Vince Martin and makes them her own. She takes Martins’ classic New York folk sound and turns it into something exciting with a string section and some beautiful Nashville guitar work. Amram did not try to cover these songs; she reinvented them. She made them her own with a more complex sound and modern feel. Amram puts more into these songs than most artists put into their own songs.
Amram’s voice is distinct and mesmerizing. It is calming and comforting. It sounds like a voice that could lull you to sleep. Her whiskey tenor plays perfect with the strumming acoustic guitar and melodic slide guitar. On songs like “Catch Me I’m Falling” and “Snow Shadows” Amram does not change much from Martins’ original tracks. She doesn’t have to. Adding her distinct voice and a newer cleaner sound brings these songs to life.
Amram uses the base of Vince Martins’ classic songs to expand the music and turn it into something modern and new. The best example of this (and maybe the best song on the album) is “If the Jasmine Don’t Get You…”. It is a classic 60s folk song. Amram turns it into a new folk/psychedelic rocker. The track starts quiet and contemplative. Throughout the song the guitars becomes more pronounced, both the slide guitar and the constant strumming of the acoustic guitar. They both play their parts behind Amram’s whimsical singing. The song picks itself up for few bars for a steel guitar solo and then drops back into the hazy lyrics of wine and starlight. All of a sudden, almost four minutes into the song, everything explodes. An electric guitar that sounds as if being played by Jerry Garcia and Thurston Moore stomping all over the the foot stomping track. It becomes something new. This is when everyone starts to dance, you can almost see girls in sundresses spinning in circles. The song ends with a Nashville slide guitar solo and some thumping drums and a smile.
Amram takes the beautiful acoustic picking and swelling steel guitar from Nashville and adds something surprising with the use of a soft melodic strings section on tracks like “Fayetteville” and “Joe Panther”. The cello and violin hum in the background and make these songs sound full and dense. They add a complexity to the tracks that could not be produced by any other instruments. The guitars dance over the swelling string instruments and Amram sings about the south as if she has been there all her life. She captures the beauty of Martins’ lyrics and makes them her own.
Vince Martin was an influential folk artist who unfortunately has fallen through the sands of time. His lyrics were sometimes whimsical and sometimes very straight forward. Not every artist can combine the two writing styles, but he did. Amram does a great job capturing the feel of Martin, but not just copying it. She reinvents these songs.
The last song on the album, “Honest Joe,” actually features Vince Martin. It is a minute and three seconds long, and adorable. Many times when listening to cover albums, you wonder what the original artist thinks of their music being covered. This lets you know. Vince Martin is right behind her on these songs. Maybe that is why it works so well. Martin was in contact with Amram and mentoring her. They formed a friendship and you can hear that on the album.