Daphne Lee Martin – Moxie
According to her press packet, Daphne Lee Martin’s Moxie is the first record in a duo of releases, Frost & Moxie. As her publicity states, “Moxie is the unapologetic whore…”
Indeed there is little room for apology in these red light anthems. Through a thick layer of smoke and cynicism, Martin casts her world weary gaze across the wreckage of many a man, wasted night, and unfortunate situation.
Like her musical godfather Tom Waits, Daphne Lee Martin is no stranger to the somber. Many of these songs stagger along almost drunkenly, with weeping mellotron and moaning horns plotting the course. Somewhere between East St. Louis and New Orleans, this record finds its wearisome heart.
On several tracks it is easy to cite Martin’s influences. For instance, “Belly” is a trip-hop exercise just barely removed from 90’s giants Portishead. On many of these songs Martin’s voice and phrasing is reminiscent of said band’s vocalist Beth Gibbons, both in delivery and production.
However, I don’t want to imply that this record resigns itself to lazy hero worship. For instance, Portishead never rocked a gypsy groove like Martin’s band, Raise the Rent, does on “Molotov”. The banjo licks on this track are a particular pleasure.
The next selection, “Faithless Beauty”, sways with a slick boss nova groove, providing ample room for a male vocal counterpart and some smoldering Latin brass. The song’s masculine/feminine call and response highlights the pervasive emotional conflict within this recording. If Moxie is the unapologetic whore, then our titular harlot is not without her introspections and doubts. Certainly there is some breed of vulnerability beneath the steely eyes of our hard-bitten protagonist.
But let’s not read too much into the lyrics. To make another Tom Waits comparison, Daphne Lee Martin is very much an actress and performer. Sure, Waits tugs at your heart strings now and then. However, he’s always in control and most often telling a story. Martin works in the same vein. Also, like Waits, she experiments in an impressive variety of styles.
For me, the most musically surprising track on Moxie is “Whispers”. I wasn’t expecting dub on this record but here we have it! Thank God for those horns. Drums, heavily delayed, pair with surgical bass lines, torrid clarinet, and a sultry vocal to transform this cut into one of the unexpected winners of the album.
Oddly, Moxie ends with some sappily uplifting cocktail jazz. “A Little Bit”, could either be seen as a cute wink goodbye or a sleazy invitation to the next time around. The cheers and jeers heard at the end of the song reiterate the tongue and cheek nature of this album. Once again, Daphne Lee Martin plays her intentions close to the vest. This is not a confessional record. It is rather a showcase for Martin’s voice and the inspired musicians who frame it.
In summation, Moxie has a whole lot of style, confidence, and just the right amount of self-conscious smirk. Warm and inviting, it duly manifests its role as the hooker with a heart of gold. I don’t know what Frost has to offer, but I hope it’s just as hot as this.