"Heaven and Earth," John Martyn (Hole In the Rain)
John Martyn was one of the greatest English singer-songwriters who never made a dent in the United States. Martyn's work was probably better known from artists who covered his songs, including Eric Clapton (May You Never), but Martyn was a singular performer and a true innovator.
In poor health for years, Martyn died of double pneumonia in late 2009. His recently released final album, Heaven And Earth was pieced together from his final recordings. It is not a masterpiece, but it's a work that the artist could've been proud of.
Martyn began as a more standard folkie, but by the early-1970s he had developed a more impressionistic and jazzier style in his singing, guitar work and songwriting. Martyn's vocals became a warm mumble or a romantic growl. It was primal. If you couldn't always understand the words, you still had no trouble understanding the intent. Martyn could communicate heartbreak and passion like no one else.
That's what Heaven And Earth captures. In the cover of Phil Collins' Can't Turn Back The Years, Martyn may be in weakened voice, but the feel is there in spades. So much so that it and the album's title cut would have to fall into any collection of Martyn's best work.
Producers John Tullio and Gary Pollitt find arrangements that recall Martyn's classic recordings. Heaven And Earth may not be the perfect place to start with Martyn's music (track down Solid Air or the excellent anthology Sweet Little Mysteries: The Island Anthology for a better introduction), but it's a fine final statement.