Heaven And Earth
* * *
Absolute Recordings, LSM 4010
The wholly merited outpouring of grief in the music community when John Martyn died of pneumonia in January 2009 spoke volumes about the man's ability to touch hearts. Heaven And Earth presents the last nine songs Martyn completed before his death, and makes for a worthy epitaph if one is prepared to take the odd proviso on board.
Primarily, its smooth production sheen and seamlessly professional full-band performances locate it closer in sound to Glorious Fool than the grainy acoustic textures of Solid Air. Secondly, certain souls out there may need reminding that, on the likes of Heel Of The Hunt, it is audibly Phil Collins on backing vocals1 - and Collins in fact wrote one of this album's standout tracks, Can't Turn Back The Years. There again, reassessment of this unwitting target of derision is long overdue, not least for his long-term encouragement, collaborations and friendship with Martyn.
Heaven And Earth is largely comprised of groove-based fare with minimal chordal movement (see Gambler and Bad Company) but Martyn is in fine mush-mouthed form, amiably growling away like Captain Haddock. The exquisite, becalmed title track is the last example of him characteristically achieving weightless transcendence: Pharoah Sanders-based vocal phrasing, the works.
1 sitenote: I am pretty sure Phil Collins does not sing backing vocals on Heel Of The Hunt. It sounds more like a John Martyn overdub.
This issue of Record Collector had Iron Maiden on the cover.