For me, the release of a new John Martyn album is always among the most noteworthy events of the year. The development of his music, its conception and execution, seems to be one of the most important and enjoyable trends in British music to emerge in the last five years, during which time he has eroded the somewhat superficial but steadfast barriers that divide folk and rock music, and produced records that have been brilliantly innovative and easily accessible.
In my article on him in ZigZag No.41, I recommended four albums among six he had then made as being totally indispensable, but now, with no reservations whatsoever, I’m glad to be able to say that you can make that five. Sunday’s Child is a masterful album, a vastly accomplished synthesis of everything that is intelligent, thoughtful and honest in music today.
On the last occasion we met, John Martyn spoke fervently about bands like Weather Report, of their total awareness of the possibilities of electric music, and their ability to utilise textures of sound and variance of rhythm to produce music of considerable, ‘earthy’ substance, but with a lightness of touch and depth of feeling that the overwhelming majority of bands are hardly capable of conceiving yet alone emulating. If Martyn’s respect for Weather Report serves as a standard for which to aim, then I would imagine he feels rightly satisfied with the work he’s produced.
Elements of folk, rock, and jazz are present throughout this album, but the blend is so subtle and it sounds so natural, that categories become non-existent and meaningless. The opening track, ‘One Day Without You’, incorporates a lazy, slurred rock’n’roll riff, but has a density and inherent power that is far more potent and a lot ‘heavier’ than any one of the ‘brute force and decibels’ brigade. ‘Clutches’ and ‘Root Love’ are similarly constructed and represent another direction, endless possibilities, and a lot to look forward to.
There are also songs that are firmly placed in either the traditional or contemporary folk idioms, ‘Lay It All Down’, ‘Spencer The Rover’, and ‘Satisfied Mind’ being the prime examples, and Martyn’s style and delivery remain, as always, sensitive and moving. His innovative techniques incorporating guitar, fuzz-box and echoplex unit, and his unique vocal phrasing and intonation are an integral part of his appeal and importance, and there aren’t any solo artists working in the same areas who come remotely near to his level of originality. He is, quite simply, essential listening, and Sunday’s Child is already quite definitely one of my albums of the year.
Zig Zag No.50
1 March 1975