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Carolyn Martin: A personal stake in Western swing

Hall of Famer Carolyn Martin brings stellar tradition to Viva Cantina in Burbank.

December 13, 2013|By Jonny Whiteside
  • Nashville-based Western Singer Carolyn Martin performs at Viva Cantina in Burbank and Jax in Glendale.
Nashville-based Western Singer Carolyn Martin performs… (Courtesy of Erick…)

Nashville-based singer-guitarist Carolyn Martin is a die-hard tradition bearer, one dedicated to country music's wild little cousin, Western swing. While the jazz-informed style has largely fallen from favor in mainstream circles, Martin, who appears Thursday at Burbank's Viva Cantina, is a favorite among an avid, steadily growing cult of Western swing aficionados. Most of these can be found here in California and, naturally, Texas, the state that launched the sound and, not so coincidentally, produced Martin herself.

"I was born and raised in Abilene, Texas, lived there until I was about 21," Martin said. "I was always a horse person, and my mom and dad had Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney records, I'd listen to those when I was in the house and when I went out to the stable, I heard country music.

"Radio formats weren't so strict then so you'd hear Bob Wills, a new country hit, a folk song, a pop tune and that background was perfect for me because Western swing incorporates so many different styles — and that's what really pushes my buttons. It has everything country, pop, polka and the African-American influence of jazz, blues, and it has that good beat, that dance beat. I love it."

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The music has played an important part in both her personal and professional lives. "I started playing guitar when I was 14," she said. "I was a very shy girl; I'd just sit in my room playing guitar all day, and I was happy to do it. But I also had a girlfriend who fiddled, and we started playing together. Her dad was also a musician and I used to go to the pickin' parties that he organized, I was starting to learn a lot of country songs and then she and I did a few little gigs, as a duo, and hearing that applause brought me right out of my shell — and the next thing I knew, I was addicted."

Martin, who spent a decade playing with the stellar, accomplished Nashville aggregation the Time Jumpers, employs a coolly authoritative vocal style that serves as rich counterpoint to Western swing's red, hot and blue musicality. Her current CD, "Tennessee Local," ably showcases an impressive facility and natural flair for the style.

"It's happy music, forget your troubles music, and it's always fun to play," Martin said. "And it's not Western swing if you don't have improvisation. The magic of the moment, that's what it's all about."

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