|Recording information: Artisan Recording, Birmingham, UK; Beechpark Studios; Big Ocean Studios, UK; Bigbox Walworth, London; Butcher Boy, Chicago, IL; CRC, Chicago, IL; Doon; Farriers Cottage, Scotland; Forth Street, Edinburgh; Grouse Lodge; Microcosm, UK; OceanWay; Pasley Park; Phil's Place; Sarm Studis, London; Strongroom Studios, London; Studio De La Gnome, UK; The Cellar; The Church Crouch End, England; The Peak, UK; Woolengrange.
|It's a forgone conclusion that tribute albums are virtually always a mixed bag. From the jump it's worth saying that Johnny Boy Would Love This: A Tribute to John Martyn fits that bill as well. That said, there are reasons that this recording is quite special, and not necessarily for the array of artists who participate. First, kudos should go to producer Jim Tullio, who guided this project to fruition, beginning right after the songwriter's death; he was a friend and collaborator who he helped Martyn complete his final studio album, Heaven and Earth. It seems that in respect to Martyn's memory, virtually every artist on this deluxe, beautifully presented, 30-track double-CD and DVD package adhered to the thing that Martyn did himself: letting the song dictate its presentation and get out of the way. The songs presented here cover from the entire range of Martyn's career, and the number of stand-out tracks is surprising. Disc one includes Beck's faithful yet futuristic reading of "Stormbringer," Clarence Fountain and Sam Butler of the Blind Boys of Alabama's foreboding read of "Glorious Fool," Robert Smith's deeply emotive "Small Hours," Ted Barnes' whimsical "Over the Hill," and Lisa Hannigan's stripped-to-the-bone take of "Couldn't Love You More," accompanied by a harmonium and Tullio's guitar. Morcheeba's Skye Edwards bravely took on Martyn's signature tune, "Solid Air," and acquits herself beautifully by keeping it sparse and retaining its jazz phrasing and haunted atmosphere. The Swell Season does a fine "I Don't Want to Know," backed by Martyn's road band. Cheryl Wilson's "You Can Discover" actually features Martyn playing guitar with Steve Rodby on bass from an unreleased album session of hers. Disc two offers Beth Orton's languid "Go Down Easy," and the late South African poet and songwriter (and Martyn contemporary) Syd Kitchen doing a gorgeous, inventive "Fine Lines," a true highlight. Vashti Bunyan, who was first mesmerized by Martyn in the late '60s, offers a lithe, plainspoken "Head and Heart"; Judie Tzuke, whom Martyn admired, offers a faithful "Hurt in Your Heart." Tullio's version of "Road to Ruin," is rough, ready, and dead on; it was to have been sung by Levon Helm (who had a long personal and professional relationship with the songwriter), but he was unable to contribute because of vocal problems. Closing it out is "Tearing and Breaking" by Phil Collins; he played with Martyn on several crucial albums (including the classic Grace & Danger), and was a close personal friend to the end. His obviously deep affection is evident in every note of this breathtaking performance. Despite some weak entries, this is one tribute recording well worth obtaining for its many treasures. It may be a vain hope that a project like this will spread Martyn's reputation and he'll get in death what he richly deserved in life, but it's a hope nonetheless. [The DVD contains numerous anecdotes, stories, and tributes from many different artists influenced by Martyn including Tullio, Edwards, Glen Hansard, Wilson, Butler, and others. The real treats, however, are the interspersed clips of Martyn playing, and his unaccompanied acoustic performance of "Cocaine Lil" which closes it out.] ~ Thom Jurek