Bless The Weather

Bless The Weather.

Scottish singer-composer John Martyn is one of a handful of soft rock artists around with a major lyric gift. He has had a couple of albums released in England which I haven’t heard and has made two very interesting albums for Warner Brothers with his wife Beverley – Strombringer and Road To Ruin. As far as I know this is Martyn’s first American solo album and an impressive debut it is.

Among the flood of primarily reflective albums released this past year I think that Bless The Weather is almost in a class with Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Jackson Browne, though it is vastly different from either. Close to the core of Martyn’s sensibility is the harsh stark tradition of Scottish balladry. And although Bless The Weather is a personal album it is meditative rather than specifically autobiographical. Martyn takes the essentials of his life and lays them Jut in simple yet compelling language that strikes a universal chord.

His lyrics, which are occasionally clumsy, are generally built around single choral phrases, e.g., “love me with your head and heart,” that are notable for their primal resonance. Martyn’s best songs could be done by just about anyone and in many different styles and still be as memorable as they are here. His tunes have a fluidity and grace that few of today’s composers can match. The most beautiful of them also have a melancholy fervour that is often accentuated by Martyn’s heavily aired acoustical strumming of major seventh chords.

Martyn’s voice is pure and mellow with few rough edges. It is a fairly light voice that never strains for effect. On “Sugar Lump,” the album’s one blues cut, Martyn shows that his singing within the genre is more than passable. Martyn plays all the guitar parts on the album. This virtuosity is showcased on “Glistening Glyndebourne,” a rambling 61/2-minute instrumental that doesn’t quite come off. On this album at least, Martyn is best instrumentally as a melodist fingerpicking his own accompaniment.

Bless The Weather contains three songs that deserve to be classics – “Go Easy,” “Bless The Weather,” and “Back Down The River.” “Go Easy” sets the dominant mood of the album. A descending line of lonely echoed chords introduces the verse, “Lookin’ at me you’ll never find out what a working man’s about/ ravin’ all night/sleepin’ away the day . . .” The chorus, which recurs several times, is the haunting plea, “Life go easy on me/love don’t pass me by.” “Bless The Weather,” a love song that is also suffused with brooding resignation, is built around another striking chorus, “Bless the weather that brought you to me/curse the storm that takes you away.”

“Back Down The River,” the album’s high point, surely ranks as a great contemporary love song. Interweaving the theme of devotion with the quest for personal identity, Martyn sings, “I know that we’re gonna be together you and me/for more than a rhyme or two your time belongs to me/ rowing back down the river / chasing my tail to the sea / rowing back down my river / trying my best to be me / watchin’ your crazy ways and all the lazy days / digging you more and more the more I see your face…”

The album closes with a dead pan 11/2-minute version of “Singin’ In The Rain.” For those who have seen the film A Clockwork Orange, Martyn’s sign-off, even if it wasn’t his intention, will seem ambiguous or slightly shocking. No matter what else might be said about it, however, his interpretation is lovely.

Stephen Holden
Rolling Stone
9 December 1971