The Spatz Theatre is one of Halifax's nicest theatre halls, a 780-seater inside a downtown high school that's just about to mark four years in operation. In keeping with the general niceness of the vicinity, Christina Martin was watching her mouth during Saturday night's album release show.
"Is 'shut up' a curse word?" she asked, abashedly, as if she had just said a whole different s-word (or worse).
Martin was also avoiding cursing because there were a surprising number of kids in the audience tagging along with their parents, being an early evening gig and all. Admittedly, attracting pre-teens to a show isn't what most songwriters think of when they talk about "expanding the audience"; the usual approach is simply to make a good record that sounds like it's eager and willing to be heard by lots of different people. It's a good thing Martin's got that covered too.
Saturday night's set featured all 10 songs from It'll Be Alright, Martin's new album out Tuesday (February 24). The material is fuller, catchier and more direct than on Martin's previous albums and, accordingly, warrants a bigger sound. So although Martin often performs as a duo with guitarist/producer/husband Dale Murray, last night's set featured a five-piece band that included among its members Glory Glory's Adam Warren and keyboardist Leith Fleming-Smith (the latter of whom opened the night with a short instrumental set).
Martin's songs trade in a certain familiarity, enhanced by her smoky voice that seems to pull its phrases from the musical ether; you swear you've heard her songs before, even if they're brand new. (The one exception to this was the set's one actual cover: a keyboard-heavy take on Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again" that sounded great, even if Martin's vocal warmth didn't quite prove an equal substitute for mid-'80s Annie Lennox's coldness).
In lesser hands, that familiarity would be a problem, but Martin and her band were solid: from the jittery bass line of the album's title track to the foot-stomping neediness of "Reaching Out," the songs sounded urgent, present and forceful. Martin even had some friends along for the ride to add a bit of extra kick to her older material. Singer-songwriter (and Matt Mays guitarist) Adam Baldwin came out during the show's slower middle portion to duet on "Marina," returning in the encore along with fellow familiar faces Rich Aucoin and Kim Harris to help out with "Falling For You" and "Daisy." Given the strong response from the crowd all night, ending the show with a Halifax musical love-in seemed appropriate.