John Martyn is a name not spoken much in the world of music. But if you’re especially sensitive to the inner well of music, that place where music takes on a different shade, a place where stronger intent is required to navigate the pathways, then you are already well aware of this dynamic British singer-songwriter.
From the earthy, folksy charms of his first album, London Conversation, with the perfect, if a bit psychedelic, “Rolling Home” to the simplistic beauty of The Tumbler (1968) with its haunting “The River” amidst a collection of beautiful acoustic tracks, and on through the titles released afterwards, John Martyn became a sleeping giant of musical brilliance.
John Martyn used immersion as a tool to make compelling music. Listen to One World (1977), and hear a blend of styles, some marked by his fondness for jazz. Before that, Solid Air (1973), a folksy classic that can slot prominently in a record collection. Frankly, if you haven’t even heard his version of “Over The Rainbow,” well, I just plain feel sorry for you. As an aside, and because I’m also a Paul Kossoff fan, Martyn and Kossoff collaborated on a track that eventually made it onto Kossoff’s Back Street Crawler (1973) gem. The song, “Time Away,” also features John Martyn on guitar.
The posthumously released Heaven and Earth (May 2011) is an
extraordinary collection of songs. With
a voice worn by the demands of aging, and a fondness for the drink, Martyn has turned
in a compelling work. The album has nine
tracks, none below the four-plus minute mark, with one even breaking eight
The album is a grand and varied collection of songs. “Stand Amazed” applies experimental jazz with a gospel-like tremor. “Bad Company” is a superb bluesy tune with so much running through its veins that you may have trouble moving away from this one song alone. I find it hard to move past the opening track, “Heel of the Hunt,” a stunning electric powerhouse with a Waits-like vocal. Heaven and Earth will be a time-honored classic — in time. It should be now, but it will have to settle further amongst even his most devout fans.
There isn’t an album, not a single one, that could be considered weak in John Martyn’s career. His guitar skills served clearly to express the musical genius that resided deeply within his being. Fans that got the benefit of John Martyn’s greatness from his varied works still have a piece of Martyn alive in them. Heaven and Earth adds to an already rich catalog but also serves as a fitting final piece to a legacy.
If you want a drink from that inner well, start with John Martyn. Then dive in head first for one of the more refreshing, unmapped journeys through the usually unlit passages of rock and roll.