John Martyn

On the Cobbles

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Martyn's first album of new material in four years might be short (around 45 minutes), and one of the tracks has appeared before ("Baby Come Home," which was on a tribute to Scots singer Frankie Miller), but it's eminently satisfying, especially when you take into account that most of the vocals and guitar work were laid down after Martyn had his right leg amputated in spring 2003. He revisits his own past with "Go Down Easy," which was originally on Solid Air, although in this guise it's barely recognizable, transformed from an acoustic frippery into a meandering, atmospheric electric piece (this version was originally recorded in 1992 for a ballet). To the joy of longtime fans, there's plenty of Martyn's acoustic fretboard work on On the Cobbles, although it's not as prominent as it was in the '70s. But the free-and-easy love song "One for the Road" is a joy, as is the wistful "Back to Marseilles." A couple of guests do show up: Paul Weller on "Under My Wing," (arguably the best song Weller never wrote) where the former Jam man sounds nervous in the presence of the Big Man, and Mavis Staples roars on a cover of Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene," although Martyn really doesn't need her help, putting forth a large, extremely soulful sound himself. His voice is the central thing here, and it continues to become a glorious instrument, slipping and slurring like a tenor horn, and fashioning beautiful lines. That's nowhere more apparent than on the album's two key tracks, "Ghosts" and "My Creator." The former is a meditation of mortality, full of trademark Martyn phrases and ideas, but executed with glowing restraint. "My Creator" is a kind of creed, truly words to live by, and the spiritual heir of "Solid Air." The jazziest cut on the album (former foil Danny Thompson plays double bass on it), it's dominated by horns to create an atmosphere of midnight blue, with Martyn wafting over the top in an irresistible manner. While On the Cobbles might be worth the price for that cut alone, the whole disc is a testament to a man who will never go gently into the good night.

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