IT IS almost 30 years since John Martyn made his debut album, at the age of 19, as the first white artist Chris Blackwell signed to Island Records (home to Bob Marley et al).
Since that time he has passed through so many styles, from acoustic blues to synthesised electronica, that his career should appear dissolute, lacking in focus. It doesn’t, because the soul and sense of restless experimentation that has accompanied him has tended to bind his work together. And is different again. Recorded in Chicago, the opening finds Martyn deliberately cloaking himself in bland, indistinct textures: silky fretless bass, synthesised strings, soprano sax – very little guitar.
First time around, this is unsettling. What the listener doesn’t know at this stage is that, as the album progresses, it will open out into the fierce, funky electric blues epitomised by Step it Up and Carmine (tracks seven and eight). When you go back to the beginning a second time, it sounds melancholy and intense, rather than bland. A seductive work.
The Sunday Times
25 July 1996