Living in Solid Air

johnmartynI thought I’d bring out some old tunes today by the late, great John Martyn.  I can’t remember why I started listening to him.  I think it was just one of those chance happenings after I was on a blues guitar kick one week.  I saw a live performance of him on YouTube, did some Wikipedia research and bought his album Solid Air on iTunes shortly thereafter.  This was almost exactly a year ago as it turns out.  I first heard John Martyn in November of last year – he actually passed away in January of this year.

John Martyn was one of those under-appreciated folk artists that never really established a huge following stateside.  Solid Air was his 1973 iconic release, and the title song was a tribute for his friend, Nick Drake – another British folk artist who has become considerably more popular posthumous.  Initially, there were three tracks that really jumped out to me:  “Solid Air”, “Don’t Want to Know” and “The Man in the Station”.  All three capture some of the more relaxed vibes on the album and I think that’s why I’m drawn to them.  The electric piano on “Don’t Want to Know” creates this sleepy texture that Martyn’s voice sets up well against.  Here – take a listen: 

I love how the electric piano controls the dynamic of the song – and it just builds until the end when the whole band is rocking out.  “The Man in the Station” has some similar textures, but Martyn switches between his lazy, sleepy style of singing and this smokey growl on the line “It’s all right, I’m catching the next train home.”

As is the case sometimes, I really locked onto my three favorite songs on the album and didn’t pay much attention to the rest of it for a while.  Every couple months, I’d come back to the album and let a little more play.  Some of the more aggressive songs like “Dreams by the Sea” and “The Easy Blues” really started to strike a chord with me.  Martyn’s band mixes blues and bossa nova jazz together in an interesting way, but it’s always John’s big bellowing voice at center stage.  Check out this crazy, experimental live version of another song from Solid Air, “I’d Rather Be the Devil”.  It’s just Martyn, an acoustic guitar w/ a pickup in it and probably several effects pedals that you can’t see (I’m guessing distortion, delay, a wah pedal?).  



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