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    Solid Air ( 1973 )
    Solid Air / Over The Hill / Don't Want To Know / I'd Rather Be The Devil / Go Down Easy / Dreams By The Sea / May You Never / The Man In The Station / The Easy Blues

    John Martyn understood the embarrassment and weakness of men, perhaps this is why he was one of the few people Nick Drake could trust to socialise with. He was one of those rare artists able to compose songs people could call their own. It happened to me with 'Solid Air', his Nick Drake tribute. Even if I had never heard a single other note by John Martyn this one song alone would be enough for me to call him a legend. By the time of 'Solid Air', Martyn had already built up a back-catalogue of five albums, two with his then wife Beverly. He found himself on the famous Island roster of the early Seventies, so assistance by John Wood in the control room was valuable as was his slurred and smoky vocal delivery. As well as the famous spooked chill-out of the title track, 'Solid Air' moves through jazz, folk and blues waters and touches upon funk on a number of occasions. It manages such electicism without ever losing an ability to hold a listener enraptured.

    The title track is heavy, touching and poetic, with delicious late night jazz melodies wrapped softly within one of Martyn's finest ever vocal performances. The mood is masterfully switched when 'Solid Air' tinkles out of earshot and in breezes 'Over The Hill'. The acoustic folk picking is strong and the acoustics surrounding the playing and the vocal sounds strikingly different from the preceding title track. You know, it seems like he's rambling over the hill, in firm sunshine, whilst singing and playing the tune. 'Don't Want To Know' only feels like a lesser composition because of the fine company it keeps on Side A of the vinyl issue. 'I'd Rather Be The Devil' you see is something of a tour-de-force with tight funk lines, stunning guitar throughout the six minutes of running time and Martyn manages to place himself next to the psychedelic wig-out brigade of the progressive rock era. 'Dreams By The Sea' has a stunning 'Shaft' like intro that impresses and solid ensemble playing with wired Danny Thompson bass-runs and delicious brass parts all holding you in some kind of awed magical spell truly stunning stuff. 'May You Never' was later covered by Eric Clapton, not that such a state of affairs greatly helped the record sales of 'Solid Air' or the commercially neglected John Martyn.

    The understated folk-blues of 'The Easy Blues' wraps up the album, Martyn again proving a rare talent on his acoustic. A great track in its own right, although along with 'Dont Want To Know', occasionally a track that's overlooked when discuss the album as a whole work of art, which of course it is. 'Solid Air' is an album that means so much to those that have discovered it, whether that was through seeing Martyn perform, or via the Drake or Clapton connections, that I'm finding it really difficult to write a summary. Let me just say that talent like this, quite possibly, simply doesn't exist some twenty six years after 'Solid Air' was initially released. It's an album that's never been out of print and following the sad passing of John Martyn will only continue to find its way into record collections as a treasure rather than a mere digital commodity.

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    this page last updated 01/02/09


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