no thrills, no frills, just great music
By C.A. REAY
SPECIAL TO THE STAR-TELEGRAM
There were cranes at Texas Stadium on Wednesday night. They're building a video background and staging for Garth Brooks. They're planning a mammoth set for a massive series of concerts that the Garth clan will tape and sell back to us.
And nothing's inherently wrong with that, but that's not where I was Wednesday night. I and a small handful of happy people were at the Caravan of Dreams to see a John Martyn set without cranes and without, in fact, a setting of any kind.
Two men (John Martyn and Johnny Tribble on bass),1 one Fender amp and a bass amp, one microphone and a few electronics. We had come, most of us, to pay homage to and enjoy the results of a 26-year career, spanning 21 albums. Although Martyn has recorded with many guest producers and artists including Eric Clapton and Phil Collins, little is lost in his live appearance.
We had come to enjoy a unique blend of traditional English folk and modern jazz, blues and rock 'n' roll... somewhere on a tangent that includes Michael Franks and Van Morrison, James Taylor and Shawn Phillips, Michael McDonald and Nina Simone. We had come to acclaim and appreciate a completely singular artist and that's, in short, exactly what we got.
John Martyn entertains the faithful
Fort Worth Star-Telegram/ RODOLFO GONZALEZ
The well-performed opening set was by local singer-songwriter Bruce Williams who, let's face it, had the guts and skill to get up in front of a small audience and sway them with just an acoustic guitar and the old familiar harmonica. He kept the interest of an occasionally uncaring crowd purely by performing some of his own songs and those of Bob Dylan and Neil Young and others, and that's no mean feat.
Then Martyn, with his sidekick, hit the stage.
No loud screams, no fog and smoke machines, no dancers, not even a tapeful of backup singers... just a simple slide into a frantic 12-bar blues called Jellyroll2 to warm up the frets and fingers. For the next 90 minutes, Martyn switched easily from acoustic guitar to electric, all the while scatting and wailing, laying his head back and moaning, driving hard and whispering... pulling every chord he knows and letting the vocals purr home.
He covered big chunks of his lengthy career with occasional nods to his new release, a compendium of his best-known material completely reworked for the '90s.3 His loose patter in between tunes and his obvious ease with the audience were ample testament to his years in smoky bars and to some opening sets for his buddy Clapton.
We came expecting friendly intimacy, and that's what it was. A sharing of joy and unquestioned magic music. A little dance, a little tears, some rock, some roll. Not enough flash for the stadium folk, but enough of what it's all about... enough meat and potatoes, enough cherry pie, enough silk and sandpaper. Almost enough John Martyn to last us until he wanders back this way. Let's hope it's not long.
Two lengthy ovations brought one encore and almost another. As Martyn told me before the show, "there's nothing derogatory about working" and it has been some time since I have seen a talent work as hard.
So whatever you do, don't miss it next time. It was a wonderful night - even without the cranes.
1 John Giblin. Too funny to correct.
2 Jelly Roll Baker, The Easy Blues.
3 No Little Boy.
This rare Texas review was printed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram of Friday 17 September 1993.