For her second album Scottish singer songwriter Martha L. Healy returned to Nashville where her first album Better Days was recorded. Three years on from that release and it’s evident that Ms. Healy has moved on from the primarily country influences heard on that album as Keep The Flame Alight is a much more personal and introspective collection of songs although there still dashes of country sass as on the excellent Woman With No Shame and the swampy Livin’ Someone Else’s Dream. Some of this progress was evident on her EP, To Be Free, where Healy paid tribute to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline but also showed on her song Too Much Time that she was developing her writing chops as we compared her to the likes of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Gretchen Peters at the time.
Much of Keep The Flame Alight maintains this direction as Healy digs into her own conflicts and also delivers some powerful songs which address the fickleness of human relationships. With excellent support from a cast of Nashville players the songs flow beautifully whether it be the metronomic percussion, delicate piano and fiddle on the title song or the slight Celtic influences on Unmade Bed and Mickey. Meanwhile Healy sings wonderfully, clear as a bell with Wendy Newcomer adding fine harmonies.
The album opens with the haunting melody of No Place Like Home with Healy expressing the sense of homesickness she experienced in Nashville, the place of her dreams perhaps but also miles away from her familiar haunts and her family. There’s a fine sense of longing in her voice as she sings of the rainy days and warm fires she misses as the band offer some comfort with a sweet fiddle solo over a muted blend of twangy guitar and accordion. The title song finds Healy in an almost existential dilemma as she worries about the march of time, counting the lines on her face in the mirror and fearful of the darkness which she fears could envelope her. The chorus is a strong declaration that she can fight this and welcome each day as a new beginning and this ultimately uplifting song is bolstered by the magnificent playing on show which is polished to a sheen with Rory Hoffman’s piano playing of particular note.
Elsewhere Healy shows that she has a firm grasp on storytelling with Fall In Love Again narrated by a woman still longing for an old paramour. Woman With No Shame meanwhile portrays the doubts of a woman who is looking for love but who ends up in a series of one night stands and Livin’ Someone Else’s Dream is basically the diary of a bored housewife. All of these are delivered with an unashamed American sounding backing with Dobro leading the way through Woman With No Shame while Livin’ Someone Else’s Dream visits a southern swampy morass. Unmade Bed is another story song but here there’s a fine Celtic lilt to the song as Healy inhabits the mind of a woman who has a fling with a childhood sweetheart. The Celtic folk influence is heard again on the mantra of We Will Be Okay which seems bound to be an audience sing-along when played live. Healy closes the album with a fine homily on Don’t Give Up which revisits some of the themes of the title song, strength in the face of adversity and again it’s delivered with a wonderfully played combination of piano, accordion and fiddle over pitter pattering percussion as she sings with true conviction.
On Keep The Flame Alive Healy has delivered a mature and immersive set of songs superbly played by her Nashville cats. One misses the exuberance of some of her earlier songs perhaps but as a statement it’s a defiant one proclaiming that she has moved on.