John Martyn – Solid Air

Released in 1973 on Island Records

Format: LP


British singer-songwriter John Martyn fuses folk, jazz, and psychedelic experimentation to create an album that is both eclectic and cohesive, tied together by his flowing voice and virtuosic acoustic guitar fingerpicking. Through varied instrumentation, the songs each have the perfect context to come alive. Album opener “Solid Air” probably has the most balanced blend of folk and jazz, with watery vibraphone and smooth sax flowing over a slow groove lead by John’s percussive acoustic guitar and smoky voice. This is followed by “Over the Hill” which ventures back into folk territory with its jubilant mandolin and violin accompaniment. “I’d Rather Be the Devil” is probably the most jammed out track here, with John Budrick shredding on the clavinet organ over a fat groove. John gets pretty crazy with live guitar effects and his echo unit on this one, especially for the last few minutes where he creates experimental guitar atmospheres over a lyrical upright bass solo to end Side A. The second side starts with my favorite track on the album “Go Down Easy”, a gorgeous, mellow duet between John Martyn and upright bassist Danny Thompson, with the acoustic guitar, vocals, and bass all flowing melodically, weaving in between the spaces created by the other instruments. A few tracks veer much closer to jazz fusion than folk though, especially “Dreams by the Sea” with its funky Miles Davis-inspired rhythm section with congas and fender Rhodes. As much as I love all the musicians here, I’m glad John included a solo song on the album; the romantic “May You Never” is a beautiful reprieve after the dense grooves of “Dream by the Sea” and a reminder that at the end of the day great songwriting is great songwriting regardless of the arrangements.

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