There’s a lot of genre-mixing going on these days, but it seems like Daphne Lee Martin went to the genre buffet and filled her plate with some of everything when she made Fall on Your Sword. There’s no way to easily define it or hyphenate its name: it combines jazz, folk, hip-hop, Latin, and more. There’s fiddle, Latin guitar, samples of speeches, rapping – there’s a lot going on here. Then there’s the mix of subject matter: bees feature prominently, there’s Biblical references, literary references, spoken word portions, legends, partial prayers, and cautionary tales. Fall on Your Sword is the fourth full-length album from Martin, but it is the first one she has produced herself.
On first listen, the songs seem like they’re all over the place because of the genre-mixing. The album opens with “Eskimo Bro.” It’s pretty jazzy, but then has guitar from Violent Mae’s Becky Kessler. The second track, “Bees Make Honey in the Lion’s Head” features rapper SuaveSki. The album is more of a tossed salad than a melting pot, with the genres standing apart instead of melting gently into one unified genre of its own. Within a couple of tracks, it becomes easier to wrap one’s head around with Martin’s smooth, jazzy vocals as the unifying element to every song. On subsequent listens, the different genres didn’t seem to clash anymore. The mixing is definitely innovative, you don’t hear it from many artists. Still, one first listen, you will probably question why the guitar showed up violently on a jazz song.
The subject matter is as varied as the musical genres. “Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Head” tells the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah, with SuaveSki rapping from the perspective of Samson (after he’s had his terrible haircut.) “Love Is a Rebellious Bird” picks up the religious influences again, including part of a bedtime prayer, but also mentions being stuck between the eagle and the snake, which may be from a Native American legend. “Laughing Place” borrows a lot from Uncle Remus’ Br’er Rabbit, the title being his name for the cavern of bees he leads his captors into, and the chorus has Martin asking not to be thrown into the briar patch – using his wit to get out of a thorny situation. Speaking of bees, “Saint Ambrose Kills His Darlings” has references to becoming a queen (bee) and advises that wise bees make more honey than they need. Plus apparently Saint Ambrose had a swarm of bees land on his face when he was a baby and leave a drop of honey. Martin has her bee references down. Then there’s the shanty-like “A Maturity of Proof,” which includes many ways to perform a public execution (if drowning doesn’t work, there’s hanging or burning at the stake,) all over the sounds of a boat rocking in a storm. The lyrics and references are clever, and there are more to be discovered and understood on every listen. Martin takes cues from pop culture, too, as “Eskimo Bro” is actually about all of her ex-boyfriends gathering at her funeral to bury her. In case you weren’t aware, Eskimo brothers is a term for men who have had sex with the same female. Bit of a change from all of the Bible references, eh?
While all of the different genres coming together can be a little rough to wrap your brain around on that first listen, it will get better. Keep at it and you’ll be rewarded with some really smart stuff that you’ll appreciate more with repeated spins.