John Martyn… a 'Celtic folkie'
SO FAR SO GOOD, John Martyn (Island Records) - John Martyn has been described as a 'Celtic folkie',1 a phrase that sums up what he's about quite nicely. Like so many artists on the curiously quaint Island label, Martyn seems to have been reincarnated from another century. His music is low-keyed folk tinged with jazz and with its absence of obvious 'hooks' it is something of an acquired taste.
Nevertheless the something-more-than-casual record buyer might take a look at So Far So Good, a collection of tunes from three earlier LPs: Bless The Weather, Solid Air and Sunday's Child. This collection is most valuable for the way it shows the evolution of Martyn's music over three or four years.
In the earliest cuts Martyn relies almost exclusively on acoustic guitars and soft percussion (congas and bongos; no drums) to back up his pleasant, easygoing vocals. Instrumentally, about as daring as he gets in this stage is the sprightly mandolin that dominates Over The Hill.
Gradually, however, Martyn gets jazzier. There's the almost-dissonant introduction to Glistening Glyndebourne, with its semi-improvisational piano work and long instrumental passages.
By the time Martyn gets around to Solid Air he has become something of a British Tim Buckley - slurring his words so that his voice becomes yet another instrument, part of a forceful, haunting arrangement built around simple blues lines.
He caps things with I'd Rather Be the Devil, which merges calypso and acid rock-thudding drums, echoing, sparse guitar riffs and a growling. moaning vocal.
1 Probably quoted from the So Far So Good liner notes by Brian Blevins.
This American review was published in The Kansas City Star of Sunday 3 July 1977.