Singer-songwriter and guitarist Martha Scanlan has spent the past six years working on a small cattle ranch in southeastern Montana, where the landscape inspired her latest album “The Shape Of Things Gone Missing, The Shape Of Things to Come.”
On tour to promote the album, Scanlan will perform in Moab on Friday, Jan. 15, at 7 p.m., with fellow guitarist Jon Neufeld. Opening for the duo is Moab’s own Sand Sheff, who will perform his original alt-country songs. The concert will take place at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center, 111 E. 100 North.
Sheff and Scanlan admire each other’s music – “She’s as good as it gets,” he said, and Scanlan calls Sheff “one of her favorite songwriters.”
The two musicians met when Sheff resided in Nashville, and Scanlan lived in eastern Tennessee, near the North Carolina border.
“I was immersed in old-time music; hanging out with fiddlers,” Scanlan said. “I was struck by the landscape influence (on the Southern musicians) … My songs have natural elements to them.”
The music magazine Dirty Linen once wrote, “Scanlan evokes Western landscapes as effectively as Georgia O’Keeffe did on canvas.”
Living and working on a Montana ranch for the past six years has influenced her latest record, she said. It’s about a human journey that Montana finds its way into, she said.
In Nashville, Sheff played in a band called Buck 50. He met Scanlan when she was a member of Reel Time Travelers –“one of the great acts of the early 2000s,” Sheff said.
Scanlan is touring Utah and Colorado, and then onto the West Coast, to promote her third release, which features Amy Helm, who introduced Scanlan years ago to her father Levon Helm of The Band. The elder Helm played on Scanlan’s first album “The West Was Burning,” which was recorded at his Woodstock, New York, studio.
Scanlan has collaborated and performed with several “roots” musicians such as Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley and others. A few years ago, she performed at the Moab Folk Festival.
Her latest endeavor was produced by her longtime collaborator Neufeld, who brought in fellow members of the band Black Prairie and the Decemberists into a Portland, Oregon, studio.
“It was all very live and improvisational,” Scanlan said. “We recorded it in a few days.”
Sheff has recorded several albums and often performs around Moab – he’s the “resident musician at Red Cliffs Lodge.” He and wife Sunnie own Moab Backyard Theater, an outdoor musical venue where Sheff also performs with his bluegrass band Quicksand Soup. He teaches music at the Moab Charter School.
The Jan. 15 MARC gig is an opportunity to hear Sheff perform solo – which he said he doesn’t do a lot. Though he often takes requests of other people’s songs, that evening he’ll be playing all original material. That’s good news to fellow musician Scanlan, who calls Sheff “an amazing songwriter.”
Both Sheff and Scanlan will perform sets, and will then likely play a song or two together.
“It’s going to be a really cool, really intimate venue; a great night to listen to music,” Sheff said.
Singer-songwriter Martha Scanlan to perform on Jan. 15
What: Martha Scanlan, featuring Jon Neufeld and Sand Sheff
When: Friday, Jan. 15, at 7 p.m.
Where: Moab Arts and Recreation Center, 111 E. 100 North