Saturday, 15 April 2017

John Martyn - Couldn't Love You More, album review

Grace and Danger in the Versions

I’ve alluded to this album before, briefly, and am writing again about it now because I am currently listening.

Released at the time, 1992, without Martyn’s approval, it would seem from online reviews to have split the listening community: long-time fans less endeared; a new audience grateful – the upbeat production on most of these tracks from across his output pulled in many by this, and also for those who hadn’t heard before it provided an insight into his writing and performance excellence [accepting the fans’ disavowal of this being correctly represented on this album].

As I said when first mentioning, I have mixed feelings. Overall, I enjoy the album and stick to what I said first time around: the quality of such music cannot be withered by alternative renditions – especially if they are John’s own – and it is additional to rather than a subtraction from the brilliance of the originals.

What doesn’t work? Well, the chunky version of my favourite from Bless the Weather, Head and Heart, does diminish the song’s acoustic roots and that gentleness; then there is Over the Hill which is again shifted up from its acoustic origins to a rather pacey version, some fine fiddle but that is neither here nor there. May You Never is a little too bright and breezy. Ways to Cry is a little crazy. That cowboy guitar…

But there are lovely offerings of further lovely songs, their loveliness endorsed by otherness rather than the other. Fine Lines gets a reverent, gentle, piano-led cover, but in essence the greatness is in the songcraft itself, and here Martyn’s absolutely gorgeous vocal – less slurred than the original [where he was developing that extraordinary jazz inflection to his singing]. The album opens on Lonely Love, which as a 80s’ piece is inherently a 80s’ sound so still sounding 80s and therefore not the most representative of his greatest period, but it is fine enough, and this is followed with an emotive, lightly orchestrated version of the emotively charged Couldn’t Love You More. I can understand people not liking the polish, especially the backing female chorus which I think works here, as an alternative. But as a highly charged and personal song, I can see this expanded production appearing as an intrusion on the privacy of its pain.

Next, Sweet Little Mystery, is similarly polished, but it is such a brilliant song, and John singing so brilliantly, it is again, for me, additional. And Phil Collins exerts his presence here, as on the original album Grace and Danger, and as I have commented before, whilst a bit of a prick he was a great friend of and support to John Martyn. So, he gets a pass, here.

Of course, there is the fine alternative versions’ album No Little Boy, from which the sessions on this album are also taken, which was approved by Martyn and has some glorious variations. Taken with the fact that Martyn’s live versions increasingly played with new takes on the songs, it does seem that this album should be accepted for the strengths it does contain.

There are further pros and cons across the album’s remaining songs, detailed below this, but I will now just simply continue listening and enjoy the majority of these. Fast-forwarding is really quite easy….

1. Lonely Love (originally on "Piece By Piece", 1986)
2. Couldn't Love You More (originally on "One World", 1978)
3. Sweet Little Mystery (originally on "Grace & Danger", 1980) [with PHIL COLLINS on backing Vocals]
4. Head & Heart (originally on "Bless The Weather", 1971)
5. Could've Been Me (originally on "Well Kept Secret", 1982) [with PHIL COLLINS on backing Vocals]
6. One Day Without You (originally on "Sunday's Child", 1975)
7. Over The Hill (originally on "Solid Air", February 1973)
8. Fine Lines (originally on "Inside Out", October 1973)
9. May You Never (originally on "Solid Air", February 1973)
10. One World (originally on "One World", 1978)
11. Ways To Cry (originally on "Inside Out", October 1973) [with PHIL COLLINS on backing Vocals and DAVE GILMOUR of PINK FLOYD on Guitar]
12. Angeline (originally on "Piece By Piece", 1986)
13. Man in the Station (originally on "Solid Air", February 1973)
14. Solid Air (originally on "Solid Air", February 1973)
15. Never Let Me Go (originally on "Well Kept Secret", 1982)

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