It usually takes a guitar or two. Strings that strum subtly, body that echoes its own hollow tune independently from the plucking. Percussion is steady, never straying into much experimentation. A familiar pattern for ears. You might add a bass to descend the sound, but not much else. Just a croon and melancholy. New York band Aunt Martha seemed to check off all the aforementioned from its “how-to-folk-rock” list, which didn’t make the end product prosaic, rather it made it dependable. Depend on Aunt Martha to give you lovely vocals, courtesy of lead singer and guitarist Tim Noyes. Rely on drummer Garrett Leahy to feed you playful percussion—and some animated facial expressions (partly frightened, partly orgasm-prone). Guitarist and back-up vocalist Charlie McCana and recently-inducted bassist Brian Kim balance out Aunt Martha’s boys-next-door vibe, all appealing factors to secure a good weekend show at Lower East Side’s The Living Room.
The band started only a year ago and has already recorded a full-length LP, Candy Maker, and are currently in the process of assembling the follow up, the tentatively titled Honey Boy North (a reference to the site of the album’s creation—a cabin in Maine). So the band mixed the old with the new, leaning mostly on Candy Maker tracks to usher the night.
The back room of The Living Room, a small bar on Ludlow Street, was surprisingly packed, from the tables at the front of the stage to the cloaked entrance in the back. Aunt Martha started the set with one of its faster tunes, “Detroit City,” a song about moving up and on. Noyes’ voice was far raspier and weathered than the recordings, a nice alternative for the live show. He crooned, “Son of the Midwest I got to get out,” rising with raw motive. They followed with new tracks, “Love Song” and “Ain’t Your Scene,” which didn’t stray far from the Candy Maker sound, a fact that disappoints because all four musicians are capable of experimenting and elevating their folk sound to more interesting heights. Some of the songs seemed to blend together from one track to the other, since many of them have similar chord progressions and drum beats. But the sound was solid and a true highlight of the night was the beautiful “Neighbor Song,” a narrative of interpersonal strife. Noyes sings, “’Cause you’re fast asleep and you choose to be / Got your head in the water but you won’t find another like me,” filled with frustration, the repetition of “Think about another” and “Just say” permeating and gliding through the song.
Upbeat tracks “Golden” and “Manual” lightened up the mood again and “No Excuses” put the finishing touches on the whole set. The crowd clamored for an encore and Aunt Martha delivered. Although the beginning was rocky, “The Flood” ended with an offbeat spoken word offering by McCana, chronicling a cross-country skiing trip and how he knew “she was the one” (the band has brought audience members up on stage in the past to perform their own improvised tales).
The show was over. The men of Martha made the rounds hugging their moms, their cousins, their college friends, their acquaintances. They went back to their non-musician lives, in which Noyes and McCana teach ESL and Biology respectively in the Bronx, Leahy studies law at Georgetown, and Kim manages a taco truck in Jersey City.
Listen to Aunt Martha here.