John Martyn

Sweet Little Mysteries: The Island Anthology

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John Martyn was Island Records' first white solo performer. Having debuted as a fresh-faced teenage folky with 1967's London Conversation, he soon embarked on a restless musical odyssey. Built on a foundation of folk, blues, and jazz, Martyn's music has ranged from effects-laden experimentation, through rock, to fusion-influenced pop. This overview of Martyn's Island recordings ignores his first two albums and two releases with then-wife Beverley, picking up with Bless the Weather (1971). Although ornate love songs from that record like "Head and Heart" remain close to Martyn's traditionalist roots, the instrumental "Glistening Glyndebourne" shows he was keen to distance himself from the Donovan-Cat Stevens orbit of twee folk-pop. Solid Air, 1973's sublime follow-up, is well represented here. On it, Martyn moved effortlessly among light acoustic tunes ("Over the Hill"), darker, jazzier numbers ("Solid Air," his ode to friend Nick Drake), and gizmo-enhanced excursions (his rendering of Skip James' "I'd Rather Be the Devil"). Martyn pursued his experimental inclinations further with the jazz-folkadelic Inside Out (1973); that album's adventurous spirit is captured by the gently droning "Eibhli Ghail Chiuin Ni Chearbhaill," which reworks a 19th century Celtic folk tune with such late 20th century rock tools as a fuzzbox and phase-shifter. Sunday's Child (1974) returned to a more focused song format, as demonstrated by the mournful "Spencer the Rover." Martyn's next studio venture, One World (1977), combined chilled-out moodscapes ("Small Hours") with slick, adult-oriented pop and rock ("Dancing"), the latter tendency even more prominent on Grace & Danger (1980) and exemplified by the delicate "Sweet Little Mystery." While Martyn's later Island releases were less memorable, those mid-'80s numbers collected here hold up well. This album provides a great introduction to John Martyn; its only weakness is the omission of his earliest efforts, a sampling of which would give a fuller sense of his work's evolution.

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