On The Cobbles

There’s a poignant dedication on John Martyn’s new album to the surgical team and nurses of orthopaedic ward one at Waterford hospital in Ireland, where last year he had part of one leg removed after an infection. But you can’t keep a good man down, particularly one such as Martyn who has had to deal with a variety of misfortunes in his troubled career, from chronic alcoholism to being produced by Phil Collins.

Thankfully, there’s nothing wrong with his larynx and On the Cobbles finds him in better voice than in years. On tracks such as Go Down Easy and Ghosts he rediscovers the subtle, undulating folk-jazz vocal inflections that made 1970s albums such as Bless the Weather and Solid Air so memorable.

Significantly, the lengthy My Creator teams him again with his greatest collaborator, Danny Thompson, whose acoustic bass playing contributed so much to the fluidity of those earlier, timeless albums. In the intervening years, Martyn has also developed a deep and gritty blues quality to his voice, heard to best effect on Leadbelly’s Goodnight Irene, on which he duets magnificently with Mavis Staples.

Elsewhere, Paul Weller adds moody keyboards to the lovely Under My Wing and the former Verve guitarist Nick McCabe makes a telling contribution to the late-night blues-jazz of Walking Home. If you turn the volume right up at the end of the record you can faintly hear Martyn declaring, “I’ve f****** dropped my stick.”

Adversity has brought out the best in him. On the Cobbles is his most resilient album for years.

Nigel Williamson
The Times
15 May 2004