Top Fifty 34: John Martyn – Solid Air, 1972

[Originally posted April 2013]

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May You Never Forget

This is undoubtedly John Martyn’s most popular album, following on from Bless the Weather and including the title track which was written for Nick Drake after his sad early death. This song and album once again joins the idiosyncratic bass playing of Danny Thompson with Martyn’s acoustic guitar and equally distinctive vocal, now beginning to develop a slightly lower timbre – a nuance – but not the jazz slur of his next album; however, the sax of Tony Coe and vibes of Tristan Fry hint at the jazzier sounds to come later in John’s career.

Second Over the Hill returns us to the folk song/sound upon which John established his career and which graced so much of Bless the Weather, mandolin, autoharp and violin all played by Richard Thompson on this bright track. Next song Don’t Want to Know and seventh May You Never are two of the most beautiful and well-known songs written by Martyn, the latter probably having the most covers of any one of his works [a problematic homage in that John’s originals are so perfect].

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I’d Rather Be the Devil provides another outing for John’s use of echoplex and other effects on his guitar and it is a dynamic piece of bluesrock with the soloing presaging so much of the brilliance we would all enjoy over the years, especially seeing Martyn playing live – listen to the exquisite echoplexed acoustic soundscapes dancing above Danny’s complex bass lines. Dreams By The Sea is another rousing rock track and these two definitely produce more overall variety on this album. The instrumental contribution of Rabbit (John Bundrick) plays a key role in the jazzier range too.  Closer The Easy Blues/Gentle Blues illustrates John’s virtuoso playing of acoustic blues, the speed matched by Danny’s dueling double bass and it is such a delightful tandem romp. Unforgettable brilliance throughout.

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