Martin Zellar

Born Under

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Martin Zellar was once lead singer of the Gear Daddies, a Minnesota outfit that sported one of the best band names of all time and garnered critical raves for two albums of gutsy, country-tinged songs filled with heartland angst. Zellar's fine solo debut continues the GDs' basic musical and lyrical themes; twangy roadhouse rock alternates with unabashed honky-tonk balladry, and real-life working class concerns dominate the lyrics. Yeah, the album cover looks like it was lifted from a J. Crew catalogue, but don't be fooled: Zellar is heir to a long and distinguished tradition of gritty, world-weary songwriting, and there's nothing faked or pretentious in his writing or his delivery. Well, almost nothing. Actually, his vocal style is a bit grating -- he pinches his vowels and whines through his nose in a way that comes across for all the world like a teenager trying to sound like a Delta bluesman. The delivery is especially intrusive on the otherwise beautiful "Falling Sky" and on "Problem Solved," an affecting portrait of an abusive relationship which the narrator must watch helplessly. The lyrics are consistently the best thing on this album: Zellar's impeccable sense of detail means that you never know when he's going to kick you in the gut, and there's no preparing for lines like "See you running for the bus/You're six months pregnant, clothes don't fit/I think my heart is going to bust." If he'd just drop the artificially strangled growl he imposes on every song, this album would be better than good. But it's solidly good nevertheless.

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