The music of Michael Martin & the Beautiful Mess has been called everything from folk to bluegrass to Celtic to country. And their instrumentation (featuring acoustic guitar, fiddle, and banjo) might make them seem like a straight-up bluegrass outfit. But to Martin’s ears, there’s only one thing going on with his band, and he loves it.

“It’s just country music to me,” he says. “And I’ve always loved country.”
There’s a crucial caveat he quickly adds, though. “When I say country, I don’t mean what you hear on the radio.”

But perhaps that more watered-down, pop-friendly brand of country has altered our expectations. Perhaps Martin’s band has simply done what they wanted to do, and the audience finally caught up.

“A couple of times we’ve played for people and we could tell they were like, ‘What the hell is this?’” Martin says with a laugh. “And it’s because they were expecting what they hear on the radio. And we know that stuff isn’t country music, and that’s one of the reasons we call what we do country.”

And that philosophy applies to the band’s lyrics as well.

“A good part of what we do is to try to tell a good story,” he says. “That’s what great country music is in a lot of ways, is telling stories. I think it goes back to that old-school music with something genuine in the lyrics. It stands for something, and I think people are looking for authenticity.”