May You Never | The Very Best Of

20 Mar 2009
The Independent
Andy Gill

John Martyn
May You Never: The Very Best of John Martyn

For once, the epithet 'Best Of...' almost rings true.

Allowing for the absence of tracks as significant as Glistening Glyndebourne, I'd Rather Be The Devil and Johnny Too Bad –and anything from Inside Out or The Tumbler– this is about as wide-ranging an account of John Martyn's oeuvre as could be compiled from his Island output.

His folksier roots are covered by one track, the rather cloying Fairy Tale Lullaby, with his later adaptation of the traditional Spencer The Rover indicating the direction he would take folk music in the 1970s. The compilation draws most from Bless The Weather (three tracks) and Solid Air (four), the period in which he crystallised the languorous folk-jazz sound that became his style, his vocal inflections growing progressively more slurred as his music became more oozingly amorphous, reaching its most oceanic state on the nine-minute Small Hours from One World, the sole experimental indulgence here.

But the absence of his more innovative pieces in favour of crowd-pleasers like Head And Heart and May You Never does tend to over-simplify his achievements. Martyn never had a bona fide hit album in his lifetime, but with a fair wind, this might be the first.

Andy Gill