Monday, March 11, 2013

john martyn

I put John Martyn in the same group with Nick Drake and Richard Thompson.  All three are English foklies from more or less the same generation.  Thompson veered much more into rock than the other two, but they all begin from the same general point of departure.  As was often the case with folkies who lived and worked through the transition from the 60s to the 70s – Joni Mitchell probably being the most well-known example – Martyn eventually began to flirt with horribly pretentious jazzbo-ish fare, featuring fretless bass players and twee time signatures.  But for a stretch of about eight years, from the stripped down troubadour stylings of London Conversation (1967), to the last gasps of brilliance on Sunday’s Child (1975), Martyn made folk music matched by almost nobody in emotional intensity.  Sometimes his stuff’s too much for me, not in the sense of it being unpleasant, more just the depth of his longing and the way contentment, romantic and otherwise, seemed to continually elude him.  In the end, though, his amazing melodies make everything all better. And there’s also the matter of his guitar playing, which, at least in his good period, is staggeringly complex and intricate without ever falling into the trap of technique as an end in itself.  The man made some of the most gorgeous folk music I’ve ever heard, and sometimes it’s ok to have your heart broken a little bit if the experience puts you in touch with the sublime…

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