Few bands, from any era, can boast the natural chemistry fueling the ten tracks on this album. Water Street’s debut album Waiting for Martin is the result of a collaboration between Dave and Milly Paulson, vocalist/guitarist and mandolin player respectively, alongside Claire and Dave McNulty on vocals/piano and bass/saxophone. It may be cliché to say that their natural interplay arises from DNA, but undoubtedly there’s a telepathic exchange between these musicians who build these songs into something much more than their seemingly simple parts. The production captures the various instruments well and underlines the vocals from both Paulson and McNulty as the true center of the album’s quality. The lyrics are top shelf even for a genre renowned for such things, but they are never too pretentious while still retaining a sharp intelligence.
“Better Off Alone” thunders open with powerful drumming before it swings into a deep, hard-hitting groove. The opening sets the song up to be some brash rock and roll workout, but the band quickly settles into their groove and they play the material with just the right amount of finesse and force. “Tidal Wave” is less subtle than the first song, but there’s still a lot going on here that may take listeners multiple spins to catch. It will be impossible to ignore McNulty’s voice, however, because she attacks the lyrics like someone calling fire down from the mountain. The guitar relaxes its sonic assault for the third song “These Eyes” and concentrates much more on a creating a thoughtful, yet crackling, soundscape. The lyrical content is quite good and McNulty’s wide-eyed passion never loses total control – instead, it pursues concurrent lines of feeling and technique never erring too much to any one side.
One of Waiting for Martin’s indisputable highlights comes with the stately piano ballad “Foul Play”. Water Street’s chief thematic concerns is the same as most popular music – the vagaries of the human heart and the inconsistent happiness experienced between men and women. “Foul Play” portrays that with vivid, dramatic clarity. “The Storm” is an enjoyable acoustic shuffle with a great pulse and relentless energy. The lyrical content has a little dark humor and it’s quite well written. The album’s final enormous peak comes with Paulson’s magnificent vocal on Waiting for Martin’s second grand ballad “Maybe”. The band creates a layered backing track for Paulson and he responds with his best phrasing yet on the album with a lyric that surely ranks among the best as well. Waiting for Martin comes to a quieter, much more restrained end on its final two songs. “Donna Lee” and “Colors” both return the band to the acoustic template solidified on the album’s second half and close Waiting for Martin with a steady, easy hand. Few albums this year saunter forth with the same confidence and command of its strengths than Waiting for Martin. Water Street embodies the best of modern Americana while surrounding their material with an excellence that extends far past the typical.
9 out of 10 stars.