Color Me Gone’s one EP introduced a nice, reedy vocalist in guitar-playing Marti Jones; rich arrangements and clear production allowed her to draw everything out of the six agreeable songs. Without really holding to any one style, the Ohio quartet flirts with radio rock, neo-ethnic Americana, country (in that mode, the downcast “Hurtin’ You” is the best thing here) and ’60sish folk-rock, winding up pleasant but unmemorable.
Jones’ solo debut — brilliantly produced by future husband Don Dixon, who also plays most of the instruments on it — draws strength from a very astute selection of tunes. She covers songs by the dB’s, Bongos, Costello and Dixon in a clear voice on this delightfully unprepossessing album.
Match Game follows roughly the same pattern, adding songs by David Bowie (“Soul Love”), Marshall Crenshaw (“Whenever You’re on My Mind”) and Free (“Soon I Will Be Gone”) to the prior album’s returning writing collective. Given a comfortable setting by Dixon’s sparkling studio work, Marti shines on tracks played by such prestigious supporters as Crenshaw, Mitch Easter, Richard Barone, Gary Barnacle, Paul Carrack, T-Bone Burnett and Darlene Love.
Boding well for an autonomous future, Don’n’Marti co-wrote three songs for the third chapter in a by-now-familiar, but no less enjoyable, book. Used Guitars gets major contributions from Crenshaw and Janis Ian (!), adding songs by John Hiatt (“The Real One,” “If I Can Love Somebody”) and Graham Parker (“You Can’t Take Love for Granted”), plus instrumental assists by the Woods, Easter and the Uptown Horns. Ian’s “Ruby” stretches Jones into smoky piano balladry that’s a bit out of keeping with the sprightly pop elsewhere, but might be the key to long-overdue commercial success.
Any Kind of Lie raises the stakes in a tasteful but determined effort to make Marti a star. Using a stable band and only two outside writing submissions (Clive Gregson’s “Second Choice” and Loudon Wainwright’s “Old Friend”), Dixon loads the songs up with every time-tested trick in the pop-country-rock singer/songwriter manual, making for a carefully arranged record that tries to consolidate a wide range of successful stylistic referents, from Suzanne Vega to Linda Ronstadt to Bonnie Raitt. A fine album to be sure, but it’s unsettling to hear this down-home gal turned out in such cosmopolitan duds.