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John Martyn - Solid Air LP

John Martyn - Solid Air LP

Island Records

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Exploratory 70s folk from one of Nick Drake’s old buddies.

I’ve gotta admit that at the beginning of the week I hadn’t heard of John Martyn. While cleaning records in the store I figured Solid Air would be worth at least a quick listen judging by its cover. A woozy shot of a hand on the front, with photos of a rumpled-looking folly who reminded me of John Fahey or Leo Kottke.

While the album isn’t necessarily up the alley of those ‘American Primitive’ guitarists as I expected, it was still a great intro into a stranger side of British folk that I didn’t realise existed. Turns out Martyn was a pretty big deal (there was an article about him in The Guardian this week!?). 

Where many of his contemporaries fell back on the “purity” of acoustic instrumentation and precise picking patterns, Martyn was looser in his playing and more willing to explore other genres and textures. He was one of the first folk artists to experiment with the Echoplex and later collaborated with Lee Scratch Perry and Phil Collins.

While this album isn’t as out there as some of his work that followed, it hasn’t aged badly (as so much of the white folk/blues of the 1970s seems to have). The title track is a tribute to his friend Nick Drake in his style: all meditative atmospherics and hushed vocals, but with somewhat meatier arrangements. While most of the tracks on this record follow along these lines or via bluesier influences, hints of his later material can be heard in an Echoplex-laden Skip James cover.

Reminds me of Nick Drake, Hejira-era Joni Mitchell, or Fleetwood Mac’s folkier moments. But it’s also material that I hear being played out and revisited by contemporary artists like Sweet Whirl, Jordan Ireland, or Steve Gunn.

- Mitch (2020)