Tuesday, 17 May 2011

John Martyn - Heaven and Earth


John's final and farewell album arrived this morning and I have listened with the mixed emotion of love and loss inevitable in hearing his last recording. I wasn't expecting to find Martyn at his best but instead to hear him finish with enough echo from a distinguished musical past as well as the growl and guffaw of his enduring if at times problematic character and personality.

It's all there. The musical echo is in the funk and groove of most songs that reflect the thread of his latter recordings, and Heaven and Earth and Can't Turn Back the Years reflect the other songcraft of earlier work, the second through, interestingly, the empathetic songwriting of his great friend Phil Collins.

The album begins powerfully with the gruff Martyn vocal strong in the mix and that's the familiar authority you want to hear. Indeed, the opening two tracks Heel of the Hunt and Stand Amazed have the loud and laughing funkgroove one has come to expect from him in his latter recording years as well as live performances.

Heaven and Earth doesn't have the memorable strength of earlier writing but it allows Martyn's voice to slide and slur and giggle along the simple melody with its declaration of love that does recall so many of his powerful romantic declarations: 'I'll move heaven and earth just to be with you', and the sax slurs its cool groove too.

Phil Collins may be a prick politically but he has been a close and dear friend of Martyn and made sustained musical contributions to John's work over the years, most notably on Grace and Danger. His song Can't Turn Back the Years is the most Matrynesque on the album and I believe this must be a genuine reflection of the empathy he has for John both musically and as a person.

The album ends ironically with Willing to Work with John's spoken, partly inarticulate intro and opening scat line 'woopee do.......I'm willing to work', and the smooth groove core is a fitting manifesto for the last glow of his unique career.

If you are not a fan this isn't the album to purchase to represent John at his best; if you are, this is compulsive and joyous and celebratory because genius endures as a whole and this is a glorious part of that.