JOHN MARTYN – Solid Air (1973)

Review by: E.D.
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

Had it been for my maligned, gone-to-worse-with-the-years habits when it comes to (everything, but mainly) music listening, I would’ve let the initial memory of “Solid Air” sink into the deep, murky waters of the back of my mind.

The very first time I was listening to this album, after the first song was over, I had that familiar feeling when you know what’s coming next is going to be real good. After the last song was over, I somehow thought to myself “well, that feeling has definitely been proven right”! However, half a day passed and I realized I had forgotten all about the songs. I couldn’t remember a single one, except for bits and pieces from the title track.

I’m thinking of an album like Eno’s “Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy” – now, that is something that makes a lasting impression and even gets me hooked by the first listen, for example… ! But that’s a bit unfair of a comparison (typewriter solo! eyeless whale!), but well.

Anyway, this time, by the hand of destiny (via young Mr. Jonathan Moss), I was faced with the moral duty to listen to “Solid Air” at least twice in order to write a mildly informed music review. Going by this logic, along came two, three, and more listens…. And, slowly, the initially opaque, unshapely mass of sound from the first time around began to take on distinct shapes and more vivid colors and textures to dwell in. “Solid Air” is neither flashy nor mind-bending. It’s a mix of fine folk sensibility and of jazzy-bluesy vibes that crawls into your senses little by little. Or, in my experience, at least, that is. The opening (and title) song being the perfect statement of said mixture.

Day by day I began to anticipate with joy the moment of listening to this album once again. It felt like being about to go to a place where the atmosphere is light… inviting to sit, relax and clear your head for a while. A temporary refuge from ordinary life out there and, in the midst of it all, indulge into more earthly-bound kind of pleasures, too.

Song-wise, I found myself waiting for “Go down easy” more eagerly than any other song along the playlist. The bare sounds from the guitar and bass resemble to me like a soft, beautiful wave being knit along with a golden thread of a voice. A GOLDEN THREAD OF A VOICE, I say! And, excuse the pervading corniness. But it’s just Gorgeous. And enthralling. I get goosebumps, weak knees and all. No need to even take into account the lyrics, in my opinion, in order to get the… well, the goosebumps, weak knees and all. Not that the lyrics are bad, in the least.

“May You Never” is my second favorite. Top quality ear-candy phrasing, to my ears. But it’s more than that. I actually can’t get over how good a song this is. Gets me thinking that it could become one of those numbers that get annoying in the voice and/or hands of any of those (to me) anonymous singers of folksy, cute, tender songs I tend to hear again and again in commercials, movies, and cereal boxes. They’d easily turn it saccharine, bland. But Martyn definitely has a something that makes its interpretation rather memorable and endearing; it resonates. Could it be the old trick of thinking one can notice a hint of true melancholy there? Or a trace of genuine desire to show appreciation to a loved one, while attempting to prevent them from making the same mistakes one has made. Or maybe it’s simply the case of a talented young man and an all-around remarkable song. Oh, by the way, Martyn was twenty five by the time of release of this album.

Other favorites include “Man in The Station” and “Rather Be the Devil”. The former comes off as a somewhat mysterious, tense, near whispery narrative of a thorn mind under the rain. Blues, jazz… I’m struggling with the terms. Help. The latter – a blues cover-, is Martyn having a blast just playing away with his fantastic (fantastic, I say!) voice, paired with a really good, funky tinted jam. It features a heavy use of diverse distorted guitar effects that I wish I could better describe as something other than, well, quite thrilling.
Other honorable mention in my book goes to “Don’t want to know” – I like the gorgeous opening atmosphere, created by the acoustic guitar and minimalist synthesizer, slowly incorporating percussions and organ as it all ends up into a livelier, groovy tune. After a few repeated listens, the chorus begins to hypnotize and grip you, not to let go for a considerable amount of time after the song has ended. Not complaining in the least, by the way.

And last but not least, I’d like to mention “Over the Hill”, which is a joyful, mandolin driven tune with hopeful lyrics from a man who has had enough of messing around and is set to go back home to his baby and wife; “the only place for a man to be when he is worried about his life”! (Well, that rhyme got me). Also, I can’t help moving my head (or whatever part of my limbs feels less frozen – winter here, at the moment) along to the rhythm, *every* single time.

So, in conclusion: I know I used the phrase “it’s a mix of fine folk sensibility and of jazzy-bluesy vibes” to describe this album in the beginning of this review. That was just not to bore you, dear reader, so soon, by watching me attempt and fail to put some more detailed, agreeable tags to this compilation of fine songs. I’m not saying I don’t believe that which I wrote; I do, I think one can easily see traces of folky guitar feel, jazzy percussions and bluesy phrasing and style in the singing, for example, in this “Solid Air”. Throw in some Latin rhythms, echoed electric guitar effects, a bit of funky bass… Tags fall very short of the mark. I’d rather you go and listen for yourself. At the end, it feels seamless, in my opinion.  And gorgeous. Also, there’s Martyn’s voice. It can be haunting, soft, tender. It can growl. It slurs and melts along with you, as you listen. But I’ve nagged you (and myself) enough about it. Better just listen!
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Author: tomymostalas

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