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Martyn, John – “Solid Air” – [Island Records Ltd.]

ArtCrimes   2/25/2009   B Library, CD

Starting out as an acoustic folkie troubador in Glasgow, John Martyn had recorded a few albums (with and without his wife of the time, Beverly) before he began using the distinctive characteristics that defined the rest of his career: slurred, almost growled vocalizing, and echoing guitar work. “Solid Air,” a 1973 release for island in the UK, is where these techniques first flowered, especially with his thundering remake of Skip James’ “Rather be the Devil” and the jazz-inflected title track, a tribute to his good friend Nick Drake. Van Morrison and Tim Buckley are probably the closest comparisons with Martyn during this period, with their semi-jazz scatting and use of vibes, horns, and acoustic instruments rather than more rock-ish support. Pentangle’s Danny Thompson is featured on double bass for most tracks, and the tidy production by John Wood lets you hear every note. Martyn wrote a number of songs that were successful for other artists in more commercial arrangements, and Martyn himself had some ill-advised flirtations with the middle-of-the-road later in a relatively long career, but this is the one everyone turned to after his recent passing at age 60, on January 29, 2009. (crimes)

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