Only Walter Martin would bring a barbershop quartet to the Tiny Desk. Best known as a singer and multi-instrumentalist with the band The Walkmen, Martin has spent his solo career making unabashedly joyful, sweetly innocent and playful music perfectly suited for quirky four-part harmonies. It works particularly well on the song with which he opens this performance, "I Went Alone On A Solo Australian Tour," a brilliant and comical call-and-response story-song about, well, going alone on a solo Australian tour.
Like much of Martin's music, the song, from his upcoming album Reminisce Bar And Grill, is wry and plain-spoken, finding humor and heart in life's smallest moments. But unlike his previous batch of mostly children's songs (on 2014's We're All Young Together and this year's My Kinda Music), "I Went Alone On A Solo Australian Tour" is really a weightier meditation on where Martin finds himself in life, now, as a married middle-aged father. He follows it in this set with the equally charming if slightly more wistful "Me And McAlevey," a reflection on his close friendship with a songwriter from Maine and the power of music to give meaning and perspective to life.
Martin closes with "Sing To Me," his best-known song, thanks in no small part to its appearance in an Apple ad. While the original version includes a conversation sung back and forth with Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O, Martin here takes on both parts and slows the tempo down just enough to find the loneliness at the heart of what is otherwise an earnest love song.
The barbershop quartet Martin brought along for this Tiny Desk performance is known as The Glen Echoes, a group of singers he found online and met for rehearsals the day before coming to NPR.
Reminisce Bar And Grill is due out early next year on Flottante Music.
Walter Martin; Josh Kaufman; Jamie Krents; Brian Kantor; Richard Cook; Ken Sleeman; Mike Holmes; Al Blount
Producers: Robin Hilton, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Niki Walker, Alyse Young, Nicholas Garbaty; Assistant Editor: Alyse Young; Production Assistant: Salvatore Maicki; Photo: Jennifer Kerrigan/NPR
For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.