Head And Heart | The Acoustic John Martyn

1 May 2017
Record Collector #466
Nick Dalton
John Martyn
Head & Heart: The Acoustic John Martyn
Island | 5736222 (2CD)
A wild man's heart

Things come full circle as Martyn, whose acoustic beginnings gave way to forceful, brooding electronica, is stripped bare. Here 35 tracks over two discs dip beneath the surface to celebrate the low-key brilliance of his playing and songwriting that sometimes seemed overlooked due to his later amplified power.

This set concentrates on his glory years, from tracks such as the ever-beautiful Fairy Tale Lullaby from his 1967 debut, London Connection, [sic] up to the mid-70s when the his finger-picking eloquence was oft restricted to radio sessions. Nuggets are cherry-picked from albums (several from The Road To Ruin with wife Beverley, and the set's innovative title track, from Bless The Weather, where his long-standing jazz-tinged partnership with bassist Danny Thompson shines through) interspersed with live, demo and alternate versions, some that only turned up in expanded versions of albums such as Stormbringer!

And, of course, there are undiscovered gems, albeit only four. Three are demos for 1968's The Tumbler, not least a splendidly rootsy slide guitar race through Goin' Down To Memphis. The other is a 1972 Whistle Test recording of Bless The Weather, at first appearing to be a conventional folk performance before going off on an (acoustic) guitar bash that foreshadowed his later work.
Nick Dalton

This review appeared in Record Collector of May 2017. The issue had 1967 on the cover, 'the year rock freaked out'.