Grace & Danger

28 May 1981
Rolling Stone #344
Don Shewey
*****

Grace and danger aptly describe the poles of John Martyn's music. His delicate, jazztinged pop-folk is among the most elegant of its kind, while his lilting, seductively throaty vocals trace intricate vulnerabilities. Yet Martyn's more exotic numbers favor electronically distorted guitar work, a lethal bass line and chaotic, clattering arrangements that suggest incipient violence and something untamed lurking in the shadows of the heart.

Grace & Danger features a handful of new Martyn classics that rank with his "Head and Heart" and "May You Never" (recorded by Eric Clapton and others). "Sweet Little Mystery" boasts an instantly appealing melody spiced with a swell of synthesized strings and lovely backup singing by Phil Collins, whose falsetto makes him sound uncannily like Stevie Nicks. "Baby Please Come Home" is a slow, tender love song whose blues origin is almost totally disguised by Martyn's velvety, heartfelt delivery. But "Hurt in Your Heart" is the album's moody masterpiece. Its evocation of bruised romanticism builds with a hypnotic power reminiscent of Marty Balin's "Miracles."

All of these cuts occur on side two. The first side's selections are more musically ambitious and slightly less successful, particularly the perversely spaced-out rendition of Delroy Wilson's reggae chestnut, "Johnny Too Bad." Nonetheless, Grace & Danger is a very strong outing for John Martyn, placing him in a class with such intelligent eclectics as Joan Armatrading and Joni Mitchell.

DON SHEWEY

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