I feel I have to preface this article by saying that Americans most likely will have no clue as to who the Tea Party was or who Jeff Martin is so this is written more for my Canadian friends. Also I am by no means a professional album reviewer, I’m just offering up my 2 cents so take it for what its worth.
I was a fan of the Tea Party the moment I heard one of their songs some 13 years ago. The band had their angst filled moments with Transmission and then blossomed into a journey of self discovery with TripTych and the Interzone Mantras. Their core however was always their eastern fueled sound. The final Tea Party Album, the Seven Circles, was a step away from that sound in favor of more radio friendly fare. The band broke up shortly after that album (not surprisingly to me at least) and front man Jeff Martin headed to Ireland to do his inevitable soul cleansing record called, Exile and the Kingdom. I enjoyed that album but found it to be a record with very little direction or purpose. Some of the songs sounded like rejected Tea Party tracks from the Edges of Twilight era while others felt perhaps under produced or even unfinished. It was a record of love and farewells to a different era and while it was a decent outing it was a small and quiet record.
Now Jeff Martin has formed a new band with drummer Wayne Sheehy called The Armada and I’m happy to say “that’s more like it”. The record definitely revisits the eastern influences that infused the Tea Party and yet it progresses the sound and content to new territory. While the songs on Exile and the Kingdom were personal and mostly acoustic, here the songs touch on a variety of controversial subjects with solid production.
The album kicks off with “Going Down Blues” a blues-rock song that makes references to the story of Robert Johnson and his deal with the devil to be the best bluesman. “Chinese Whispers” infuses the Far East sounds of China which is something Martin has not visited in the past and the result works well even though it flirts with sounding like a parody.
“A line in the Sand” is the environmental track of the album alerting us to the dangers of ignoring the pain of Mother Nature in modern times. I heard this track in an acoustic form a while back and wasn’t that crazy about it but here in its final version it’s a pretty strong song. “Morocco” is my favorite track on this album. The song is a scathing critique of the treatment of women in the Middle East and the barbaric concept of honor killings. It beautifully infuses the sounds of rock with Middle Eastern sounds and instruments like only Jeff Martin can do.
The reprise of “Black Snake Blues”, a track that also appeared on Exile and the Kingdom, really seems unnecessary here. While it was one of the best songs on Exile it really doesn’t fit all that well in this record. However it is an improved and better produced version of the song. The Final songs on the track really go back to the days of the scary Tea Party songs from the Transmission era and give the album a strong end.
While I doubt the Jeff Martin will ever shake away the memories of the Tea Party, not that he should, I think this album shows that he is far from becoming insignificant. The Armada is a strong record and one that will easily pull in fans of what made the Tea Party so great to begin with. Martin is playing things safer this time out by revisiting the elements that made his past so successful and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. He’s managed to bring new life to his sound and produced a solid rock album.