Tuesday, May 18, 2010

John Martyn - Solid Air (LP, Island)

Solid Air was released in 1973, and regarded by many to be the seminal John Martyn album. The title track was written for close friend Nick Drake, who was under considerable mental strife at the time (Nick Drake took his own life the following year).

While the sound of the album is adventurous & dynamic, the breakthrough in Martyn's sound had really come with the previous album, Bless The Weather. Firstly he'd joined forces with a man with whom he'd be linked for decades to come - ex-Pentangle bass player, Danny Thompson. Danny's double bass is the perfect accompaniment to John's fine finger picking. Next was the adoption of the Echoplex tape delay machine that he used when it came to laying down the smoky, fuzzy vibe. The third was his voice. The slurry, laid back delivery matches perfectly with his finger picking.

Above all, this was folk filtered through jazz. The inclusion of Tony Coe on sax complements Martyn's slurred delivery throughout. This, combined with the finest in British folk rock (most of Fairport Convention, including Richard Thompson, make an appearance here), lifted Solid Air above previous efforts.

The album kicks off with Martyn's lament for close friend Nick Drake on the vibe and sax-assisted title track. Of course, the one track that most will remember is "May You Never" - his paean to brotherly love that was to be a staple of every performance he's given since.

John Martyn may not be the finest folk artist, but with his characteristic backslap acoustic guitar playing, his effects-driven experimental journeys, his catalog of excellent songs, as well as his jazz-inflected singing style, John Martyn will remain an important and influential figure in both British folk and rock.

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