Heaven And Earth - Hole in the Rain LSM 4010

14 May 2011
Arts Desk
Thomas H. Green

I've spent the last week feasting on John Martyn via Spotify. He was a gap in my musical education. He turns out, as a large portion of you reading already well know, to be a rich, raw talent. I knew his rep but had a misguided notion he was another blueprint for whiny contemporary singer-songwriters. All that reveals is my own ignorance.

There's a fair chunk of miscalculated stodge in his back catalogue but the best of it combines Britain's folk heritage with all manner of jazz, blues, funk and roiled emotion and is something that will require a great deal more investigation on my part.

Martyn died of pneumonia in 2009, already debilitated by the loss of a leg amputated three year earlier. He was 60 and had been a Brit folk icon since the late Sixties. His last album, however, is hardly a quietened Johnny Cash-rediscovered-by-Rick-Rubin contemplative affair. It's more like a casual bluesy pub set, drawled and slurred out by the singer. It has teeth but never threatens to hit the high notes of his songs that excited me most on Spotify.

Recorded in his Irish home fuelled by "warm port and herbal aromas" according to its creator, a man never backward when it came to booze and the rest, it's not especially focused. As the last recordings he ever made, however, it's sturdy and easily enjoyable. It's one for the fans -and I confess I'm currently only a dabbler- but you can hear a warm organic glow at its core, aided by his rambling soulful tones. Happily, it's not a slick and overproduced album but mellow and welcoming. Songs such as Gambler, Colour and the title track roll along with a righteous self-effacing confidence. Martyn even covers Can't Turn Back The Years, originally an appalling tinny whinge by his old pal Phil Collins - and he convincingly makes it a drowsy mournful blues. Now that's quite a feat. All in all, not too bad a musical exit.

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