In the depths of the pandemic last fall and winter, West End guitarist Martin Devaney spent time in his basement studio surrounded by posters of concerts he had attended or played at and contemplated the soundtrack of his life. There, and on his porch when the weather was inviting, he wrote and recorded a full-length album scheduled for release on October 8.
Titled “Folios,” the 11-song recording represents a departure for Devaney after 20 years in the music business. Inspired by his vast collection of notebooks filled with his song titles, lyrics and literary musings, “Folios” reflects Devaney’s love of literature and writing. He hopes it is the perfect vehicle for carrying him forward as a singer and songwriter.
Martin Devaney
West End singer-songwriter Martin Devaney reclines on the front stoop of the White Squirrel on West Seventh Street where he and his band Folios will unveil a bevy of new tunes. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Until now, Devaney said, his music could be described as 1990s-era indie rock with a flavor of old country or Americana. The new and very personal songs on “Folios,” he said, have a very different calling card.

“When the tunes started coming to me, I was in my pajama pants and a cardigan, either on the porch or downstairs with a space heater waiting for the furnace to turn on,” he said. “It’s music made by a guy with an English degree who works customer-service jobs. I can’t help but joke that it’s cardigan rock.”

A new depth to his music

In all seriousness, there is a depth to the new titles in “Folios,” Devaney added. “For me, it was a bit counterintuitive to record an album completely by myself and not put it out under my own name as I’ve done in the past,” he said.

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Devaney played some gigs on tenor saxophone as a student at Central High School. He also studied at Walker West Music Academy on Selby Avenue. But his vocation as a musician really began at the University of Minnesota where, as a student of literature and creative writing, he was drawn to the work of songwriters and picked up the guitar. “From there, I got more into songs as my main vehicle for writing,” he said.

Devaney traces his new direction in music to a weariness that set in near the end of 2019. By the spring of 2020, he was planning an extended break from performing. “I was burned out from a busy year of touring after my last record, and I guess I didn’t feel particularly useful anymore,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I had much else to say, and who needed to hear it from me, anyway?”

Then COVID hit, “and obviously we all went on hiatus,” he said.

Early in the lockdown, Devaney began writing music again. “But it felt like more of the same,” he said, “almost an exercise in Americana songwriting that just felt like ground I had already covered.” That summer he was laid off from his day job, and by early September he found himself in a hospital with serious health concerns. It was then that Devaney quit drinking alcohol.

Getting sober “is part of the story,” he said, “a piece of the puzzle, a big factor in the new songs and the album.” Another factor was the guitar he purchased when he came home from the hospital.

Finding his sweet spot

“My main acoustic guitar is a 1953 Martin,” he said. “It’s a beautiful instrument that I’m not going to take to a campfire.” He wanted a guitar he could play outdoors, so a friend helped him locate a sturdy Canadian instrument he dubbed Little Canada. It became his constant companion.

“In maybe late October last year, the tunes started coming,” he said. “I hadn’t written that clearly or passionately in about 15 years. I subjected my wife Maggie to dozens of tunes over the winter and sent songs to friends for feedback. I realized I was getting enough tunes to demo for a record, but that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon since no one was going into the studio and I’m not smart about recording remotely. So I kept adding to songs and playing them for people, and it started to feel like something I could release. The tunes were really revealing in that they were documenting me coming out of this darkness and illness and kind of encouraged me to keep going. It was nourishing.

“Not that all of my writing in the last year has been easy,” Devaney said. “It floated in such a way that has always been possible, but I’d forgotten that and it ceased to happen. Now I’ve kind of found the sweet spot for the things I’m good at, the things that I can pull off with my set of skills instead of trying to reach beyond. I’m not typically thought of as a strong singer. I’m not a flashy guitar player. I’m hot and cold at being a front dude. What I’m good at are words. That’s where it has always come from for me.”

New ‘Folios’ album is released

Devaney said he “would be nowhere” now without the support of his family and friends and especially his wife. “My hope is that these tunes might be helpful to someone else who’s struggling,” he said, “not necessarily with alcohol, but with depression, self doubt, imposter syndrome, anxiety, and on and on.”

“Folios” will be available on CD, through digital download and in a limited-edition vinyl record. “I believe in the album as an art form and physical artifact,” Devaney said. “It’s a most involved experience that requires something of the listener.”

The official album release show for “Folios” is set for 9 p.m. Saturday, October 23, at the Aster Cafe, 125 Main St. SE. in Minneapolis. However, Devaney will preview some of the songs in concert at 7 p.m. Friday, September 24, at the White Squirrel, 974 W. Seventh St. His band the Folios will share the stage that evening with Saint Small and the Falderals.

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— Anne Murphy


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