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BBC Live In Concert

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Album Review

This two-CD set of BBC performances is drawn from three sessions John Martyn did for the radio network, the first (in mono, though the fidelity is OK) from December 30, 1971; the second from October 13, 1977; and the third, which takes up all of the second disc, from March 25, 1981. Eclecticism is one of Martyn's defining characteristics, but when you compile a release from three different periods of his career, the result is so stylistically varied that you almost have the impression you're listening to several different artists. The four songs from 1971 are, as expected, the folkiest, with three tunes from his Bless the Weather album, including the title cut and, unfortunately, his clap-along cover of "Singin' in the Rain," which is not one of his better moments by any stretch of the imagination. All three of those tracks are done on solo acoustic guitar, yet he gives listeners a taste of his trademark Echoplex effects on "Outside In," heard here about two years before he put an official version on his 1973 Inside Out album. A much longer (nearly 15-minute) recording of the same tune leads off the three songs from the 1977 portion, on which he at times seems almost to drown in his own guitar effects on that track and "Dealer," though there's also a plaintive acoustic traditional folk song ("Spencer the Rover"), almost as if to deliberately throw listeners off balance. He uses a full band, plays electric rather than acoustic guitar, and gravitates toward a more conventional, less idiosyncratic rock approach on the 1981 material, though fronting a group seems to set his vocal limitations in bolder relief. Most of that 1981 session presents songs from his Grace & Danger album of the previous year, though fans might find his cover of the Slickers' "Johnny Too Bad" of special interest, as Martyn added some lyrics. As a whole, the album confirms the cultish, acquired-taste appeal of Martyn's peculiar brand of singer/songwriter music. That same appeal, however, is precisely what guarantees that most fans in his sizable cult will find this BBC collection easy to appreciate.


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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BBC Live In Concert, John Martyn
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