John Martyn

Glasgow Walker

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Following his 1999 collection of cover tunes The Church With One Bell, John Martyn returned with Glasgow Walker, his first recording of new material in four years. An album whose seductive moodiness can either draw you in or drift off into the ether, Glasgow Walker, like much of his recent work, lives and dies on its smoky grooves, ambient loops, and subtle, jazz-inflected instrumentation, as well as Martyn's idiosyncratic vocal delivery. When he does find that right mood or groove, for instance on the entrancing opener "So Sweet" or the slow, sensual R&B of "Wildflower," the result can be riveting, but moments of lukewarm funk, uninspired synth landscapes, and soft material are responsible for the occasional lull in an album that is already laid-back. Still, his successes tend to outweigh the failures. While 90 percent of Glasgow Walker adheres to a similar premise and sound, Martyn tosses a curve with the record's closer, "You Don't Know What Love Is." For a good portion of his career he's toyed with elements of jazz, but here, as with "Strange Fruit" from the previous album, he once again tackles a straightforward jazz classic. Performed with a jazz quintet, "You Don't Know What Love Is" may or may not be a hint at a new direction for Martyn but, as was the case with the venerable Billie Holiday piece, he pulls it off with style and grace. There may be a few tracks that seem to get lost in their own atmosphere, but at its best Glasgow Walker's hypnotic textures ebb and flow around the deliberate rhythms and Martyn's evocative, understated vocal, resulting in a record that's capable of getting under your skin, if you give it the chance.

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