Thursday, 1 December 2011

John Martyn

Heaven And Earth (ABSOLUTE, 2011, CD)

I yield to none in my admiration for the young John Martyn. The albums he made in the 1960s and 70s - from London Conversation to Grace & Danger by way of the unimpeachable Solid Air in 1973 - are among the finest in the golden age of Island Records. But then something happened to him. To be precise, the 80s happened to him.

He forsook the fabulous acoustic finger-picking technique he'd derived from Davy Graham for the new god of electronics; and, not helped by his epic boozing, he developed a vocal style so slurred and mannered he could give Vic Reeves's 'club singer' a run for his money. (Kind hearts prefer to compare this later croaky drawl to Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen.)

The new album, the last he completed before his death in 2009, was recorded at home amid the aural distractions of boiling kettles and barking dogs. There's a tight, jazz-funk groove underlying the songs, but they rarely develop beyond repeated chordal phrases over which Martyn burbles and extemporises. Only the one non-Martyn composition included here, Phil Collins's 'Can't Turn Back The Years', lifts him from his lethargy.

[First published in RnR

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