The Church With One Bell
FOR decades, John Martyn has kept a core of die-hard fans with his version of the British blues which, by drawing on folk and jazz stylings, not to mention the singer's long history of personal neglect - has avoided the well-worn middle of the road which his peers occupy. Here he manages to cover tracks such as Elmore James's The Sky Is Crying and Ben Harper's Excuse Me Mister without sounding hackneyed.
In fact, this album is the result of a deal between Martyn and his record company: he does some cover versions, they cough up and buy him a church which he's always liked the look of. Perhaps it's because of commercial interests that he's tackled a Portishead number, Glory Box; all the same, Martyn manages to uncover the song's bluesy bones (which may present the case that his early, mesmeric work pre-figured trip hop).
Not that this record is one for the kids. But, in his 50th year, Martyn is still sounding fresh on a moody collection held together by darkly reflective lyrics and singing: the perfect soundtrack for a night-time drive across a God-forsaken heath.
This review went accompanied with a two-minute interview on the same page in the Arts & Books section.
Clipping kindly provided by Martin Claridge