1973, Music

Solid Air (1973) by John Martyn

I had never even heard of John Martyn before listening to this. Just an album that came out in February 1973 so it was on my list of 45tth anniversaries. So this is, um, a giant surprise.

Imagine if you will Tim Buckley with a less amazing voice, and struggling more to find a sweet spot between folk traditionalism and jazz (and swinging from one to the other, but being equally compelling which ever path he chooses for the given song. Or imagine a male, mid’1970s Joni Mitchell, without the weird tunings but way more committed into becoming a jazz performer. Either way you get some vague idea as what John Martyn sounds like on this record.

Martyn seems equally capable of writing tunes which are folk songs (“Over the Hill”) and tunes which could be middle-of-the-road ’70s singer-songwriter stuff but instead serve as the basis for jazz-influenced sounds or, occasionally, jazz itself. His lyrics are not particularly impressive but that doesn’t matter, because the music he makes here is so great. Though he is making folk jazz like Buckley, Joni and Van Morrison, his take on it is unique enough – he’s found a space they haven’t.

The backing band is a bunch of folk rock musicians from the British scene (including a cameo from Richard Thompson!) but somehow they manage to sound as if they are American and have been playing this jazzy, funky stuff pretty regularly. And Martyn is a compelling singer (though he’s not Tim Buckley, who appears to be a massive influence).

I really can’t tell you how much I like this – it’s right in my wheelhouse as the folk jazz hybrid thing has long been a favourite of mine. Can’t believe I hadn’t heard of this guy.


All tracks written by John Martyn except “I’d Rather Be the Devil”, by Skip James.

  1. “Solid Air” 5:45
  2. “Over the Hill” 2:53
  3. “Don’t Want to Know” 3:02
  4. “I’d Rather Be the Devil” 6:18
  5. “Go Down Easy” 3:35
  6. “Dreams by the Sea” 3:17
  7. “May You Never” 3:41
  8. “The Man in the Station” 2:53
  9. “The Easy Blues” 3:20
  • John Martyn – vocals, acoustic & electric guitar; synthesizer on “The Easy Blues”
  • Richard Thompson – mandolin on “Over the Hill”
  • Simon Nicol – autoharp on “Over the Hill”
  • Sue Draheim – violin on “Over the Hill”
  • Tony Coe – saxophone on “Dreams by the Sea” & “Solid Air”
  • John “Rabbit” Bundrick – acoustic & electric piano, organ, clavinet
  • Tristan Fry – vibraphone on “Solid Air”
  • Danny Thompson – acoustic bass
  • Dave Pegg – bass
  • Dave Mattacks – drums
  • Neemoi “Speedy” Acquaye – congas

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