Well Kept Secret – Duke 90021-1

1 Mar 1983
The Rocket
Robert Allen

John Martyn
Well Kept Secret
Duke Records


JOHN MARTYN HAS REMAINED A WELL-kept secret despite a career dating back to 1968. His songs have been covered by several more popular artists (Eric Clapton, Ian Matthews, America) but the Scot's own blend of blues and folk-oriented rock has never broken through to a large audience.

Though not the equal of last year's brilliant but brooding Glorious Fool, Well Kept Secret is Martyn's most accessible record and a perfect introduction to his work. His trademark growling vocals are still there, but most of the songs are more up-tempo than usual. The arrangements are more conventional, which can work against Martyn's slower songs. On Never Let Me Go, Martyn strays uncomfortably close to sounding like a bad lounge singer. More successful are Could've Been Me and Hung Up, wistful ballads that stand with any of his earlier songs.

The bulk of this album beats with a rock 'n' roll heart, with jazz shadings. Martyn's slurring of lyrics is an effective device that gives his vocals their distinctive flavor. His agile guitar and Alan Thomson's fretless bass are constant standouts on the faster tracks. Gun Money and Back With A Vengeance particularly burn with a taut, intense fire. Gun Money uses a sequencer and an explosive drum track to set up a tight rhythm over which Martyn lays down some powerful guitar work.

This more aggressive stance complements his natural talent for writing some of the least bland ballads around. It also gives this record a more diverse feel than any of his past efforts. Anyone impressed by the latter-day Clapton or J.J. Cale should give Well Kept Secret a listen.

This review was published in The Rocket of March 1983, issue #42, on page 29 and 30.
The Rocket was a Seattle based magazine that lived from 1979 to 2000. Charles Cross was helpful in tracking down this material.

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