Jen Slocumb has a voice so serene that she could sing an angel to sleep. Her husband, Rob, possesses a delicate velvet touch that is as tender and innocent as the heart of purity. Together, Jen and Rob render music that blossoms with the gentle elegance of a prayer. On Friday, October 16, this critically acclaimed duo that goes by the name of Martha’s Trouble, will release its latest single, a cover of Joni Mitchell’s timeless, ‘River’ (Aisling Records). AXS was lucky enough to not only get the exclusive premiere of this stunning track (click on the photo to listen), but Jen was also available to answer a few questions regarding the intimidating prospect of breathing new beauty into such a revered classic.
AXS: What was it about this song that made you want to cover it?
Jen Slocumb: Actually, people have been asking us to cover this song for a while, but I didn’t know if I could do it justice. Finally, we started working on it last Christmas season, because every year we try to add a couple of new Christmas songs to our set. After a little encouragement from Rob to just try it, I fell in love with singing the song. I guess it’s the classic “you never know until you try it” thing! We had such a great response to it that we decided to not only keep it in our set, but to also record it. I love the way this song makes me feel.
A: Is the original version of the song particularly meaningful for you?
JS: I’ve always loved that song. Joni Mitchell is such an amazing songwriter, and this song always takes me back to the feeling of Christmas growing up in Canada.
A: Have you been performing this song live?
JS: Every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas, we do a Christmas Tour, “Christmas In Your Town” -- we’ve been doing this since 2002! The Christmas shows for our fans have become something that we both really look forward to. Our Christmas repertoire has evolved since our first six-song EP, Christmas Lights. Two years ago, we thought it would be fun to add a rendition of “River” to our live set list.
A: How did the audience react to it?
JS: We were overwhelmed by the reaction -- we immediately started getting requests for a recorded version of the song. The same thing happened again last year, so we realized, “Okay, we need to make a recording of this song, this needs to happen in 2015.”
A: What was the recording process like?
JS: We worked with a new engineer on this song. He has a mobile set up. Because of time constraints and the daily craziness of kids, we thought it would be easier to have him bring the studio to our house. And it was! The recording of this song couldn’t have gone any smoother. The track just came together very naturally over the course of three night sessions.
A: How did you decide what you wanted this version to be like?
JS: Most of the time, we perform as a duo with me on lead vocals, cocktail kit, and djembe, and Rob on acoustic guitar and electric guitar. When we do “River” live, it is a very intimate arrangement with just vocal and guitar. We wanted to keep that vibe in the studio, but the nice thing about making a recorded version is we had the opportunity to add other parts that we just couldn’t do live as a duo.
A: Did the recording measure up to what you heard in your head?
JS: I do think we captured the vibe; it’s very intimate with some other things happening musically that do not take from the intimacy, but rather help enhance that mood.
A: Joni Mitchell is a much-loved performer. Was it intimidating to tackle a song made famous by such a revered artist?
JS: Doing a song like this was definitely a little intimidating, but since we’ve had such a good response from our audiences when we’ve performed it, it confirmed that we took it in the right direction. Also, because other Canadian artists have covered this song, we wanted to make sure that our version was strong enough. We are really proud of how it turned out.
A: This Friday, you’re also releasing “White Christmas.” Why did you decide to record two holiday singles this year?
JS: A few months ago we entered into a management/development deal with Cocoas Entertainment. We wanted to hit the ground running with them. When we mentioned that we had two new Christmas songs ready to go and the Christmas season was fast approaching, the label thought it would be a good idea to release both singles this year, then follow up with a studio album in early 2016. We liked the idea and the recording sessions came together so easily. We are really proud of our rendition of these songs and we are very excited for our fans to hear them.
A: Do you have any special annual holiday traditions that you celebrate with your family?
JS: Well, now that we have a family of our own, we actually have some new traditions. We moved from Canada to Alabama 10 years ago, right when Wilson was born. It has become a tradition to go back to Toronto every Christmas and visit family and friends. Splitting the time between the two places gives us two different experiences for Christmas. It’s also fun for the kids to see the snow! And now that the kids are a little older, we try and go skiing at least once while we are there. They love it!
“River,” as well as “White Christmas,” will be available on Aisling Records this Friday, October 16.