The Church With One Bell - Independiente ISOM 3CD

25 Mar 1998
The Independent
Andy Gill

Andy Gill's round-up


JOHN MARTYN The Church With One Bell (Independiente ISOM 3CD)

Something of a backwards step from the subtly modernistic grooves of 1996, this is John Martyn's blues album, co-produced by the singer with Norman Dayron, the man responsible for The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions back in 1971.

But Martyn's is an understanding of the form that can locate the blues in songs by Brecht, Portishead, Ben Harper, Bobby Charles and Randy Newman, alongside Lightnin' Hopkins, Elmore James and the Reverend Gary Davis.

Again, Martyn rather hides his guitar-playing under a bushel, though his voice is suitably ingrained with care and world-weariness on tracks such as Death Don't Have No Mercy, where a sombre bowed-bass solo provides a solitary landmark in the wasteland of Davis' song. Newman's bitter God's Song is taken as a 3am piano blues, and Hopkins' Feel So Bad a light shuffle, but the real meat of the album lies in a central sequence where Harper's Excuse Me Mister, Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit and Elmore James' The Sky Is Crying approach an almost unbearable, funereal absorption, before the release of Martyn's version of Portishead's Glory Box.


Andy Gill discussed four other albums in this feature. I had to guess the streetdate.