Martha's Trouble

This Christmas

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With This Christmas, Martha's Trouble follows up their 2002 EP, Christmas Lights, with a slightly longer effort that mixes originals and evergreens. (Christmas Lights was a six-song EP; this is an eight-song album.) Chief instrumentalist Rob Slocumb constructs folk-pop arrangements that begin with his own acoustic guitar and add other instruments (electric guitar, bass, melodica, organ, piano, mandolin, percussion) to taste. The function of the instrumentation is to support Jen Slocumb's torn, baby-doll voice, equal parts Natalie Merchant (the becalmed sonorousness) and Emmylou Harris (the breathy twang). It's a voice more suited to heartbreak than celebration, which may explain why songs that usually have a more joyous tone are rendered in a bittersweet manner here. When the Slocumbs take on Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime," for example, they make it seem considerably less wonderful and not a little sad, and although Jen Slocumb sings in "Jingle Bells" that she's "dashing through the snow," she actually sounds like she's trudging along, deep in thought. Such interpretations are one way to find a new approach to performing familiar material, of course, but Martha's Trouble sound more at home on reverent holiday fare such as "O Holy Night."

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