Why I Love Out In La La Land by Martha Spencer

Written by Jason Jefferies

I have been a music nerd for my entire life.

My medium is the album.

While I can appreciate what Napster and Limewire and the like gave us in the late-1990s (and now Spotify and Apple Music)—which is access to everything all the time—I want to be taken on a musical journey, not skip around erratically from single to single.  I want to press play and disappear into an album for 40

to 90 minutes, maybe with a brief interruption to walk over to the turntable and flip a record over.  I want to be told a story, if not with lyrics, than sonically.  Preferably both.

Which brings us to the stellar new album Out in La La Land by Martha Spencer, the first album to be released by Music Maker Foundation in my tenure as Program Coordinator.  Out in La La Land opens with an interstellar flourish straight out of honky-tonk outer space and works its way into a classic, boot-stomping shuffle with yodel-esque vocal inflections straight off of the Appalachian mountaintops.

“Pardon me, I was just out in outer space,” Martha sings, and a theme is born.

Track two, “California Sunshine,” pulls from the same daydreamy tone, as California sunshine is a long way from the cloudy mountains in Virginia, and track three, “Woman of the Road”, gives us the album’s thesis statement: “I don’t care about living forever, just as long as I can live the way I want to.”

“This album is for all of the dreamers out there,” Martha says.  “The women on the road.  The ones leaving and the ones coming home.”

Out in La La Land was recorded at Sidekick Sound Studios in Nashville, TN, and features a posse of legendary session musicians, such as Lillie Mae Rische on harmony vocals, Jay Weaver on bass, Chris Scruggs on steel guitar, Mark Thornton on electric guitars, and several others who lend their talents to Spencer’s throwback country sound.

“This one definitely has a lot of classic country, a little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of quirkiness too.”

When asked about the evolution of her sound on Out in La La Land, Martha says “I grew up with a lot of old-time mountain music.  My mom always sang a lot of old country songs, George Jones and Dolly Parton, so that’s what I grew up singing.  I guess it’s pretty natural, it’s what I like, so I think I’ve got a little bit of that sound in there too.  It’s got a lot of who I am reflected in it.”

Besides Martha Spencer’s excellent music, which is sequenced to perfection, what I really love about Out in La La Land is that it is coming into the world as a fully formed package.  The visual aspect of the album, from the packaging to the labels on the record, tell a story, which branches out into the video for the first single “Sometimes”.

See the video for “Sometimes” here.

While it is not unusual for a promotional package to have a theme, it has become unusual in 2024 to have an album that tells a story, as most “albums” in the Spotify-era are just packaged as a loose collection of songs, so much so that an artist like Billie Eilish has to specify that her upcoming album “is meant to be listened to all the way through — a cohesive body of work.”

The achy longing of first single “Sometimes” is followed by “Abducted By Your Love”, a tune that would not be out of place on the next Quentin Tarantino soundtrack.  “Little Darling” features a masterful vocal duet with Archer, and “Coo Coo” chugs along like an Orange Blossom Special.

“Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” gives us the first of the album’s two covers (the song is originally written by Dolly Parton) and “Who’s Gonna Break It To My Heart” provides a unique spin on the timeless twin topics of heartbreak and loneliness.  “West Texas Wind” finds its home on the range, with Eddy Dunlap providing breezy accents on his steel guitar.

“Tomorrow is a Long Time” is the album’s second cover (the original is written by Bob Dylan), and remarkably, Dylan’s musings are not out of place amongst Martha’s own.  “Same Little Dream” brings us full circle, back to the otherworldly introduction of “La La Land”, but now at album’s end “the time for dreaming is done”.

Country music is hot.  Not the Nashville-establishment country music, which has always had an audience more or less, but the “alt-folk” brand of country and the throwback honky-tonk that Nashville is having trouble wrapping its head around: Jason Isbell, Margo Price, Zach Bryan, Kacey Musgrave (to a certain extent), Tyler Childers, Rhiannon Giddens, Nick Shoulders.  I could go on and on.

Martha Spencer fits firmly into this pocket, though she has carved out a space of her own with Out in La La Land.  This is her best album in a catalog of all-star releases; there are no bad choices here.  But Out in La La Land is set to have Martha Spencer on a lot of daydreaming minds.

I cannot wait for the world to hear it.

Out in La La Land will be released on May 17, 2024 via Music Maker Foundation.  You can order the album here.