JD Martin and Jan Garrett release new album ‘Better Angels’
On their ninth album, the local folk music duo of Jan Garrett and J.D. Martin are searching for hope to combat our troubling times.
“We are offering this to people as an inspiring, uplifting velvet-hammer wake-up call,” Garrett said this week.
The album’s title song, “Better Angels,” is based on Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural address, when he called eloquently for cooperation and peace among divided Americans on the eve of the Civil War.
“He was doing his best to be a voice of sanity,” Garrett said.
In this new folk song, Garrett repeats “calling on our better angels” as a rallying cry for America — and Americans — to do better.
They’ll launch the album with a release party and concert tonight at the Aspen Chapel.
The 10-song album also includes songs inspired by writers like Brené Brown (“Braving the Wilderness”) and Terry Tempest Williams (“Red”) that look for lessons and hope in the natural world.
Some of the material was drawn directly from news headlines. The U.S. policy of separating families at the border, for example, inspired Martin to write “Home of the Brave,” which tells the story of Guadalupe, a woman taken from her U.S.-born children in Phoenix when she is deported, and Kamal, a Sudanese nurse forced to leave the country due to his immigration status. In the chorus of this sparse piano ballad, Martin sings “When you come for Guadalupe/When you come for Kamal/When you come for my neighbor/You come for me.”
Developments like the family separations at the border sent him into artistic action.
“That focused the whole album,” Martin said. “When I saw those children and moms being separated, it broke my heart.”
Though the “Better Angels” material is inspired largely by the tumult of the Trump era, the couple is quick to note that it is not protest music.
“The thing about protest songs is that they ultimately don’t work,” said Garrett. “Anything you resist will persist.”
Garrett and Martin, who live in Willits, are both musical partners and a married couple. They have been playing and writing songs together for 24 years, though both have been on the Aspen music scene since the 1970s.
The pair’s musical work has always been infused with an element of community service, which has prepared them for this moment and for “Better Angels.”
“Everyone can agree, whatever side of the aisle you’re on, that there’s a high level of dysfunction going on in our government that is alarming,” Garrett said. “We felt we couldn’t sit around and do ‘la la la,’ business as usual. It’s a critical time in our history. … There is a sense of urgency for us to come together and start acting.”
Last weekend the pair led a workshop at the Aspen Chapel called “Embodying Your Authentic Voice” aimed at empowering both singers and non-musicians.
“It’s deep work,” said Garrett. “Empowering your authentic voice, connecting to a higher purpose and acting on that.”
Their songs are soulful and spiritual while moving between the folk, jazz and blues idioms.
“We do all different styles, but it’s all about the heart,” Garrett said. “We’re certainly not in this business to get rich.”
To this, Martin chuckled and chimed in: “But we’re not opposed to it.”
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The Aspen Winter Words series will host four in-person author talks at Paepcke Auditorium in Aspen and two online-only events.