There’s something about Martin Courtney’s voice that just gets me. He has one of those voices that no matter what he’s singing he always just sounds like him. There’s no grandiose accenting or histrionics when he sings songs like “It’s Real” or “Talking Backwards” with his main gig Real Estate. You get the impression when you hear him that he’s more or less a guy that’s been wounded by life a time or two and he carries that wound in his voice. His delivery is easy going, but not lackadaisical. Maybe he’s a little high or he’s got a beer buzz, but he’s never slurred in his words about old neighborhoods, old lovers, and past mistakes. I love Courtney’s voice and Real Estate like some people love The Dead and Dylan. It doesn’t matter what you say or how boring or lacking in energy his music is, I’ll tell you that you just aren’t listening hard enough. There’s something even transcendent about Martin Courtney and Real Estate. There’s an existential weight that dangles over their music that no one else today is really reaching. To the naked ear, it’s mopey jangle rock. But if you put your ear a little closer to the tracks, in the distance there’s rumblings of something completely different.
But here’s the thing, when the guys in Real Estate go off and do their own thing, while still a good listen, it’s just not the same. Alex Bleeker and the Freaks, Matt Mondanile and Ducktails, and now a solo Martin Courtney. Together in Real Estate these guys make a special kind of mopey magic. Apart it’s not quite as existenially heavy. The advantage Courtney has over his bandmates? His voice, of course.
Many Moons is a great album. It’s a breezy listen that would have made an excellent summer album. Something you crank up driving down a two-lane highway to some warm and sunny destination. But since it was released in fall, I guess it’ll make a fine autumn album as well. “Awake” could have been a b-side to something off of Real Estate’s Days. There’s nothing that distinguishes this lovely track from a Real Estate song, really. It has the same melancholy vibe and stoned strum that makes Real Estate fodder for the broken-hearted and disenfranchised. This isn’t a knock on the song. Just pointing that out. “Foto” feels like 70s singer/songwriter fare. The kind of song that idles in the middle. Somewhere stuck between the major and minor chords, taking it’s four and a half minutes to find an emotion to settle on. “Vestiges” keeps the 70s vibe going with what sounds like a slightly beefier Bread. Instead of whining about the girl that got away and sounding all emasculated, Courtney visits familiar territory in New Jersey backyard barbecues and partying in bygone eras. “Northern Highway” is a shimmering pop track that contains a formula for songwriting Courtney should repeat for future solo ventures. It encapsulates both late-60s California and mid-90s New Jersey within it’s quick moving four minutes. Think Byrds and Yo La Tengo coming together for something quite special. More of this kind of thing would’ve made this record go from good to “Damn!” “Many Moons” is a short instrumental that opens side two and it feels a little a bit too soft rock for it’s own good. Strings and flute build the song from a quiet acoustic strummer into something you’d expect to hear playing quietly above your head at the doctor’s office. Real Estate do great instrumental tunes, they really do. This is just borderline sappy. “Asleep” is a wondeful little number with a sad and lamenting feel to it. “Airport Bar” is another great tune that starts out a bit like something off Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled record. Seems like a good point to end the album.
While not a perfect record, Martin Courtney’s Many Moons is a breezy, pastoral album that only suffers occasionally from a tad too much artificial sweetener.