Martin Zellar & The Hardways

The Many Moods of Martin Zellar & The Hardways

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Counting his releases with the Gear Daddies, this can be considered Minnesota roots-rocker Martin Zellar's fifth album. It is easily his most realized work in every way, whether performance, songwriting, musicianship or production.

Behind the often bright catchy melodies and various styles -- ranging from Springsteen-influenced pop rock, to hard-core country, hard driving rave-ups, as well as a dash of bluegrass and touch of R&B -- there's a lot of heartache and lost confidence going on, mixed with childhood memories of a simpler time. But one has to pay attention to get it. Carolyn," has an exquisite arrangement and may be the stunner of the album. It begins with a classical string duet and easily slips into a straight-ahead country groove with a piano that could've been lifted from any Billy Sherrill session for Tammy Wynette. The strings slip back in on the bridge, but now they sound totally country; or do they? The almost jaunty honky tonk beat is in direct contrast with the lyrics where a man is begging his love not to leave. This lyrical theme of confusion and loss is continued on "Time and Time Again," where Zellar's gift for a catchy pop melody is quite evident. The song demonstrates his maturation as a songwriter who has learned his craft combining a neat use of repetition in the verse with a memorable chorus. In a just world, this would be a hit.

Zellar's trademark vocal growl is still evident, but he has learned to control and use it to good effect. The album's closer "Marching Beside Him" will no doubt stun some fans and gain him others. Set to a marching beat, it is a totally uncompromising declaration of faith that recalls some of the sterner compositions on Dylan's "Slow Train Coming" and "Saved Albums." Initially startling, the conviction and sincerity of the performance are undeniable, bringing a very real album to an ultimately strong conclusion.

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