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Heaven and Earth

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Album Review

The late John Martyn was a legend in British music circles, a phenomenal guitarist and arranger whose influence has been acknowledged by everyone from Bob Marley and Eric Clapton to Brian Eno and the Edge, and whose approach to soundcraft helped lay the foundation for an entire generation of trip-hop artists and DJs. Heaven and Earth is sort of of a tribute album; it consists of unfinished tracks that Martyn was working on at the time of his death in 2009, some of them bluesy, some reggae-inflected or jazzy, but all of them imbued with a powerful sense of space and an expansive approach to melody. "Heel of the Hunt" is among the most spacious and powerful tracks on this album, while "Stand Amazed" hints strongly at reggae while guitars, clavinets, and soulful backing vocalists respond with more of an R&B vibe. "Bad Company" is a bluesy rocker; "Gambler" is a slow-rocking blues. Amazing as the music consistently is, however, it can't overcome this album's primary liability, which is Martyn's atrocious singing. Only rarely does Martyn seem actually to be hitting any notes; instead he growls and grunts and declaims his lyrics in a deep, gruff voice that makes him sound very often like a drunken bear. "Could've Told You Before I Met You" matches voice to groove most effectively, but on just about every other song Martyn's singing is like a wet and scratchy wool blanket laid over a table set with delicious food on glittering china. None of this makes him any less of a musical genius; it's just that sometimes geniuses should let other people do the singing.


Born: 11 September 1948 in New Malden, Surrey, England

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

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

Singer/songwriter/guitarist John Martyn was born Iain David McGeachy on September 11, 1948, in New Malden, Surrey, and raised in Glasgow by his grandmother. He began his innovative and expansive career at the age of 17 with a style influenced by American blues artists such as Robert Johnson and Skip James, the traditional music of his homeland, and the eclectic folk of Davey Graham (Graham remained an influence and idol of Martyn's throughout his career). With the aid of his mentor, traditional singer...
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Heaven and Earth, John Martyn
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