Jan Garrett and JD Martin knew from the start that they would make beautiful music together—but in their case, it’s also literally true. In addition to being life partners, the pair has collaborated professionally for more than 20 years as songwriters and performers.
Last February, they released their ninth album, Better Angels, an uplifting collection of songs that may be best described as vocal-heavy folk music, though the duo explores a variety of styles, from jazz to blues to country.
“I feel like we write heart music,” says Garrett, “music that’s really based in what you might call wholeheartedness.”
The album and its title song take their names from Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural address, in which he implored the nation to call upon the “better angels of our nature” and realize that “we are not enemies, but friends.” Finding themselves in a country nearly as divided as during Lincoln’s time, Garrett and Martin wrote the songs from a place of what they call “fierce harmony” in response to what they see going on every day.
Says Garrett, “We think that really great music has a way of going beyond politics, beyond entrenched differences of opinions and ideologies, beyond divisive infighting, and lands deeply, powerfully, right in the center of the heart.”
Better Angels marks another milestone in the couple’s prolific partnership, which predates their marriage. “We knew each other in the ’70s because we were both playing music in different bands in Aspen,” explains Garrett, who also toured with John Denver and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. “Then, in the mid-1990s, when we actually had an opportunity to get together at a kind of high-altitude cabin party and hear each other sing, it was clear that there was big energy there. It looked like it was either going to be romantic or musically professional or both.”
It ended up being both after Garrett and Martin wrote a love song together, “and we realized halfway through this song that we were writing our own love story, which is so romantic,” laughs Garrett. “Music can do amazing things—let me just say that.”
In addition to that fateful love song, Martin has penned more than a dozen top-10 pop and country singles, among other works.
These days, when they’re not churning out albums or winning emPower Positive Music Awards (two songs from Better Angels are finalists this year), Garrett and Martin teach piano and guitar at their Basalt home—which has recording-studio capability—and perform for corporate get-togethers and other private events. They also get onstage for the occasional public concert and will appear as part of the Wheeler Opera House’s Sunset Sessions on July 3.
To describe their musical mission, Garrett recites a quote the two of them once came up with together: “There is a heart of harmony we are all longing to tune into. It’s the direct experience of remembering, with great relief, who we really are. The words suggest a path. The music takes us there.” Pick up a copy of Better Angels, and get ready to follow along.