Coming off the heels of a remarkable string of recording successes, Martin X. Petz emerges again with a new release entitled Broken Man that’s sure to continue that run of artistic achievement. There’s nine songs on the new album, including one revisited from a previous effort, and the collection hangs together as an unified lyrical and musical statement. Clearly conceived music is always a joy to listen to because it allows audiences to feel satisfying confidence in the performer from the outset rather than questioning their musical choices. The primary instruments on a Petz album are usually his voice and acoustic guitar, but there’s songs on Broken Man that successfully work with a full band and a smattering of unexpected instrumentation and approaches that spin his typical approach in new, exciting directions.
The title song is a powerfully arranged tune that maximizes the drama and keeps the verbiage to an effective minimum. Petz plays the vocal straight and doesn’t give it anymore than it needs to convey the song’s message. “Noble Blues” is cut from a similar mold in that regard; while it isn’t nearly as dramatic in its depiction of personal struggle, an overwrought vocal could take the lyric into outright melodramatic territory, but Petz never errors in that way. “Noble Blues”, likewise, is a much more streamlined and familiar take on classic Americana rock than the opener and the two songs provide a nice contrast for beginning the album. Broken Man switches gears on the song “Fall” and takes listeners in much more acoustic based, sensitive direction that existing fans of Petz’s music will recognize and enjoy.
“Castaway” has a nice pop lift to it that Petz wisely never plays up too much. Instead, much of his efforts are directed towards delivering the distinctive phrasing that lights up so many of his songs. It doesn’t broach any new ground in terms of subject matter, but Petz handles the familiar in a way that speaks to his personal experience rather than merely recycling tropes. “Heart and Home” has some interesting guitar work and is vaguely reminiscent of the earlier “Noble Blues” in how well the lyric grounds itself in day to day lives of people and their priorities. “Count” is quite similar; there’s an instructive quality to some of Petz’s songs that never condescends to the listener nor gets high-handed but, instead, simply looks to relate his own movement through life in the hopes that his audience relates and finds common ground.
“They Say (You’ll Know)” is the finest commercially slanted track on the album, but commerciality for Petz doesn’t necessitate pandering for the listener’s attention. Instead, he grabs our attention through his command of melody and song construction. He revisits his recent past with Broken Man’s concluding song. “Chained” returns us, somewhat, to the same ground he covers in the opener number, albeit in a much more musically stripped down fashion. Broken Man is an impressive effort, as always, from one of the country’s best under-the-radar indie songwriters and shows his growing willingness to reach out to a wider audience.
9 out of 10 stars