John Martyn

On Air

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Recorded for German radio in Bremen in 1975, this is prime John Martyn. This is a solo gig, featuring Martyn on an acoustic guitar playing in front of an open-minded audience. Beginning with a killer reading of Lonnie Johnson's "Jelly Roll Baker," the singer and guitarist is at the absolute top of his form on this seven-track set -- though this is not an EP. The three-cut, 11-and-a-half-minute seamless medley that he moves into next is close to breathtaking, including the traditional "Mhairi's Wedding," "Make No Mistake," and "Bless the Weather." His voice is in excellent shape and his inspired readings of his own compositions together with canonical music are flawless. "You Can Discover" and "Solid Air" make use of his jazz phrasing both instrumentally and vocally. He's relaxed and focused, and digs deep into the material to let it reveal secrets in his performance. The set ends on a 13-plus-minute reading of Skip James' "I'd Rather Be the Devil," with sound effects in full force. He improvises his ass off and lets the guitar and its sundry echoes, reverbed strings, and delays do the talking until he digs into the body of the cut itself. It's spooky, outrageous, and deeply inspired. Martyn fans will be delighted with this vintage performance -- in spotless sound quality -- as it belongs somewhere near the top of his catalog.

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