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The Island Years

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Album Review

There are few comprehensive, elaborately packaged box sets that actually warrant the price they command, but this 18-disc set by the late songwriter and guitarist John Martyn is one of them. The 17 audio discs contain every album he cut for the label, from his first solo recordings to his duet albums with first wife, Beverly, and all the steps in between until 1987's original version of The Apprentice, which sees first light here. (Chris Blackwell, Island's label boss, refused to release the album, claiming it wasn't the proper direction for him. Martyn took this as an invitation to piss off and declined to renew his contract. He self-financed a re-recording then released it himself in 1990.) There is also a DVD in the package. It includes four Old Grey Whistle Test appearances between 1973 and 1978, the complete Foundations concert — as well as outtakes from it — and an appearance on A Little Night Music in 1981. The 17 audio discs include beautifully remastered editions of each album, and dozens of unreleased, alternate, and outtake tracks. Some of the live material really rates highly in this box's treasure-trove department; in particular, there are two gigs: Live at the Hanging Lamp from 1972 on disc five, which took place between Bless the Weather and Solid Air, and disc ten's Live at Town Hall in Sydney, dating from 1977 between Sunday's Child and One World. For those who purchased the double-disc deluxe editions of his catalog records, the second discs are included here, so you may want to take that into consideration. That said, those who purchased 2008's Ain't No Saint — prepared with full participation by Martyn just five months before his death — will find little duplication here when it comes to scale. In addition to the music and video, the package itself is so utterly handsome it's almost an artistic fetish object. There are three 12"x12" gatefold sleeves inside a hard, thick, gorgeous cardboard slipcase. Two of these include the 17 audio discs, while the third contains the DVD and various ephemera: there are reproduced handbills, a tour souvenir booklet from 1978, press releases, and even a set list replica. It also contains a full-size, hardbound book entitled The John Martyn Album, which includes a family album of photographs from childhood on, a lengthy, in-depth, and authoritative historical liner essay by John Hillarby, more copious and rare photographs, and a scrapbook of press reviews of various concerts and records. Finally, there is a replica poster from the Live at Leeds gig. Ultimately, no matter how heated the exchanges between Martyn and his fans could be during concerts, the respect between audience and performer was total and it was loyal — the same punters who would complain the loudest would be at the very next show. It is for these people, those who knew his true worth as an artist who The Island Years was created for and will appeal to most.


Born: March 09, 1942 in Garnant, Wales

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

While John Cale is one of the most famous and, in his own way, influential underground rock musicians, he is also one of the hardest to pin down stylistically. Much has been made of his schooling in classical and avant-garde music, yet much of what he's recorded has been decidedly song-oriented, dovetailing close to the mainstream at times. Terming him a forefather of punk and new wave isn't exactly accurate, either. Those investigating his work for the first time under that premise may be surprised...
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The Island Years, John Cale
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