Singer-songwriter Martha Scanlan will be one of the stars of the Tunturiblues Festival, which will be held in Finnish Lapland in late January. Also starring in the traditional event - this will be the 18th edition - are Kelly Joe Phelps as well as the Finnish acts Jo' Buddy & Down Home King III, Sam Huber & Fat Bullets, Olli Haavisto, and Eero Raittinen & Noisy Kinda Men.

For Martha Scanlan, music is not about building a career or winning accolades, though she has done both in the space of a few years. It is about seeking authenticity in life. It is what drew her to early
Van Morrison, tragic Irish ballads, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash, while her friends in high school herded toward Top 40. The music inspired her to leave Minnesota and settle in Montana, where she taught herself guitar while working as a counselor for troubled youth in a wilderness program.

Impulsively, she moved to East Tennessee to get closer to the Appalachian music she loved and, eventually, to help launch the
Reeltime Travelers. Their first album made its way into the hands of  producers T-Bone Burnett and Bob Neuwirth. The band was quickly asked to join several of the tour dates with greats like Ralph Stanley and Alison Krauss.  This led to Martha and the Reeltime Travelers being selected to perform a gospel tune for the "Cold Mountain" soundtrack and to join the subsequent Great High Mountain Tour.

For six years, until they disbanded in early 2005, the Reeltime Travelers enjoyed critical respect and support from fans of traditional music. But it was Martha who caused a stir at the 2003 MerleFest by winning first and second prizes in the bluegrass and country division of the Chris Austin Songwriting Competition.

That says a lot for the quality and purity of Martha’s work. Recording the tracks on her solo debut "The West Was Burning" began with what Scanlan calls a "cosmic kick in the pants". While traveling on the tour bus with friends
Ollabelle, Scanlan found herself just ten minutes from the home of Dirk Powell. The two had always had a connection and interest in traditional music, landscape, and belonging, and after a late night jam Martha asked Dirk to produce her record.

January 2009 will see the release of Martha's next record. It is an live album containing material from her last year's tour in Finland.

Martha, your music obviously comes from a wide spectrum of American music - what does the blues mean to you? What kind of a role does the blues play in the American tradition?
My background is more in traditional country music. But one thing that people don't always realize about traditional country music is how much blues has influenced it, and continues to.

You have also worked with the legendary Levon Helm and his daughter Amy of Ollabelle. What can you say about these people as work partners and friends?
The Helms are some of the best folks around, they are dear friends. One thing that was interesting about making my record was the different traditional influences that came together there; gospel and country and blues. Levon's background is particularly interesting, because he grew up around a lot of white and black traditions in Arkansas, and his music reflects that.

An album containing material recorded in Finland will be out in January. What do you want to tell our readers about the album?
The album was recorded live and features the Stuart Brothers, who grew up playing old-time traditional music in North Carolina. Featured are also the Finns Ninni Poijarvi, Mika Kuokkanen and Olli Haavisto. We had a wonderful time.

Ninni Poijarvi and Mika Kuokkanen are talented people, eh?
Ninni and Mika are just wonderful people and wonderful musicians. It is really great playing with them always.

Based on your previous experiences from Finland, what do you think of Finns as people and audience?
We had a wonderful time in Finland last May, the Finns were wonderful and generous and lovely.


Bio courtesy of Sugar Hill Records

Martha Scanlan, Tunturiblues, Sugar Hill Records

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Spotlight on Martha Scanlan

12 January 2009

Martha Scanlan is one of the stars at the Tunturiblues Festival in Finnish Lapland in late January. Her roots are in traditional country, but she emphasizes the influence blues has had in it, and continues to.