Album of the Week, March 3: Bless the Weather by John Martyn
March 3, 2013 1 Comment
John Martyn was born in 1948 and spent his youth split between his mother’s England and his father’s Scotland. He attended art school in Glasgow, the city to which he maintained the strongest ties. Playing a blend of folk and blues, he began performing and developing his distinctive guitar style. He was signed to Island in 1967; his debut, London Conversation, was a solid bit of folk work that only hinted at where his talents would lead him. He recorded one more solo album and two discs co-credited to his wife Beverley, slowly moving from standard folk and blues to a sound all his own. In 1971 he recorded and released his first truly brilliant album, Bless the Weather.
|Title||Bless the Weather
|Label||Island||Release Date||November 1971|
|Producer||John Martyn and John Wood|
|U.S. Chart||n/c||U.K. Chart||n/c|
The album was written and recorded very quickly. Martyn would often write a song and lay down the basic tracks the same day. That spontaneity led to a very natural feel that suited the material beautifully. The songs fit together into a consistent whole, but each has its own distinct sound, much of which blended into his sound over future releases. His backing band included luminaries like Richard Thompson, Danny Thompson, and Ian Whiteman.
Things start off with Go Easy, a quiet reflection on life. It’s a perfect first track, setting up the tension between adventure and caution that echoes throughout the album. Bless the Weather is one of Martyn’s finest songs ever and flows nicely from Go Easy. It paints a picture of a tumultuous but ultimately rewarding relationship. The guitar work is stellar, demonstrating Martyn’s growing confidence and experimentation.
Sugar Lump is the closest to a throwaway on the album, a bit of gritty blues with lusty overtones. It’s nicely delivered, however, and shows off the vocal variations that would become a bigger part of Martyn’s work on future albums. Walk On the Water has a jazzier feel with a marimba line that works very well with Martyn singing in his higher register. It’s a nice piece of naturalism, too, the other theme that resonates throughout the disc. On the original release, side one wraps up with Just Now, a great companion to Go Easy that creates a solid whole from the side. The song also features some lovely piano work from Whiteman.
Side two starts off very strong with another Martyn classic. Head and Heart is an amazing plea for truly authentic love, achingly delivered in one of his best vocals. The acoustic guitar work is also stunning; the song was a feature of most of his live shows and he truly showed his virtuosity with it. Beverley Martyn, no longer part of the official act, makes a strong appearance on Let the Good Things Come. Her high, pure vocals provide a nice counterpoint to John’s. The overall effect bolsters the optimism of the song nicely. Martyn goes back to nature on Back Down the River, a sweetly quiet song that also speaks of independence, a frequent Martyn theme.
Nothing in Martyn’s past truly prepared listeners for the 6:30 instrumental Glistening Glyndebourne. It’s one of his first thorough uses of echoplex and truly shows the experimental approach to music that he is setting up. It could be self-indulgent or rambling (as Rolling Stone accused in an early review) but in fact is a bold statement of musical intent. The skill of his musical partners helps make the jazzy track work and the song serves as a testament to just how innovative Martyn was.
Things wrap up almost tongue in cheek with the album’s only cover, a charming reading of Singin’ In the Rain. Martyn delivers it with real joy, and it proves a nice choice, blending the nature, determination, and hope of the whole disc with a new reading of something very familiar.
FURTHER LISTENING: After Bless the Weather, John Martyn became vastly more experimental, merging jazz, blues, folk, world beats, electronics, and a host of styles into his repertoire. While that showed off his musical diversity, it led to much less predictable and consistent releases. The clear exception was the very next disc, Solid Air, which is nearly as strong as Bless the Weather. It moves things forward effectively and has nine powerful songs; the title track is one of his finest accomplishments (and was written for his friend Nick Drake). Martyn declared the harrowing Grace and Danger to be a personal favorite; it captured his feelings on the end of his marriage. By his untimely death in 2009, he had released nearly two dozen discs, each of which has something wonderful to offer. The Island anthology Sweet Little Mysteries is a great overview for beginners or casual fans.