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‘Why haven’t you reviewed the John Martyn album yet?’ screams the lady at Island, and the reason, quite simply, is that John’s albums take so long to get into – there’s just so much going on it’s hard to retain the same impression until you’ve really settled in with the album over a period. This is a great album and one which marks a slight departure for John, who was tending to get a little too bogged down in the ‘Stormbringer’ rut. He has achieved some amazing effects on this album using his voice with far more care and in a different capacity. His singing has improved immeasurably and his voice has been recorded beautifully by John Wood. His whole slurring syllables is far more dynamic, far more personalised, and John exudes a confidence and authority throughout which carries the album across. ‘Solid Air’ just about sums up the slightly incongruous nature of an album that is suspended between spacy, abstract music and more basic down to earth funk. But as a single overall expression it flows beautifully. One of the highlights is his treatment of Skip James’ ‘I’d Rather Be The Devil’ on which he embarks on one of those self-indulgent little excursions into echo and reverb that we’ve learnt to expect from him on stage. The textures on his album are constantly changing – for instance, ‘Over the Hill’ is beautifully jazz tinged but elsewhere John calls on the service of folkies like Richard Thompson, Sue Draheim and Simon Nicol to add fiddle, mandolin and autoharp. Only on ‘The Easy Blues’ does John move into the electronics world with the use of synthesiser – and that’s to convert an old traditional blues, recorded by popular request into something that’s unmistakably his own. It’s a little piece of vintage John Martyn a la ‘Tumbler’ days, but it just about completes the picture and shows the entire spectrum of music that John Martyn has at his fingertips. He’s one of the most important innovators we’ve got and it’s small wonder they’ve been going bananas over his playing in the States.
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