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John Martyn - Solid Air CD (album) cover


John Martyn

Prog Folk

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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars 4.5 stars really!!!!

John Martyn's Solid Air is certainly his best known album and generally acclaimed as his best album, even if there is a crowd to contest that his later 70's albums were better (OW and G&D). I'm of the first school, even if I prefer Outside In even more. Solid Air is somewhat of an anomaly in Martyn's discography for its sleeve artwork is an abstract hand moving through matter, instead of the usual self-portrait.

Obviously the beauty of this album is represented by its title track, a superb slow emotive track about one of Martyn's closest friends,, the folk songwriter Nick Drake who was going through a severe and constant depression and would end up dying from an overdose of drugs (legit or not) the following year. Funnily enough, John Martyn's trademark Echoplex is not present as the track is mostly an acoustic guitar over Danny Thompson's sumptuous contrabass line and an amazing vibraphone, Martyn's haunting lyrics are simply spine-chilling. Of course the title track is not the only pyre beauty on this album, as Don't Wanna Know is starting very much in the same mould, but finally settles in a mid-tempo where Fender Rhodes, vibes and multi-layered vocals abound. The much faster Rather Be The Devil is quite a different beast and sees the Echoplex getting some action on Martyn's excellent and unusual guitar grunts as later on, the track veers into slow jam and ultimately its death. Grandiose as well. Other tracks like Go Down Easy are more straight forward and shows John in, if not joyful, at least in a soulful mood. Dreams By The Sea is a red hot track that sizzles on the beachside and features some wild guitar, a n excellent sax solo from Tony Coe. Another stand-out track is Man at The Station, where the Fender Rhodes guides the up-beat song into excellent breaks and changeovers.

Solid Air is generally considered as Martyn's top achievement by almost everyone, with the exception of a pro-Collins faction, who will find that the early 80's trilogy is his best moment. I'll let you the sole judge, though between the obvious Outside's Solid Weather trilogy of the early 70's and the Collins ?produced Grace-Glorious-Secret trilogy of the early 80's?.. No contest, right. Martyn's testament lays somewhere on this disc.

Report this review (#245709)
Posted Thursday, October 22, 2009 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Richard Thompson, David Pegg just to mention a few special contributors to Solid Air....Solid Air was one of those distinctive releases that hold it's head up on high for bringing rare, precious music to the people. Prog Folk is best suited for John Martyn from a genre perspective but at times he would musically play anything but! The kind of artist you can categorize but end up being perplexed due to his strong ability to confuse by never getting stuck in a rut,the opener " Solid Air" introduces Martyn's distinct vocal traits, hypnotically laid back over several soundscapes to infuse droning harmonies, emotional beacons and bumbling frailties....vulnerability for true artists speak volumes. The music not only on the title track, but throughout is fragile to say the least.

John Martyn delivers emotion in many songs especially the title track, the self emphatic ' Go Down Easy" and the beuatifully fragile 'May You Never". I think this album is, amongst it's peers, up there with the finest. A great contrubution to sound and listening, an abstract, unusual contribution to Prog music but so valid nevertheless. This is one of his finest releases. Enjoy if you can. Four solid stars.

Report this review (#246179)
Posted Sunday, October 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Solid Air is where John Martyn experimented the most with various influences. Apart from his folk roots here, there are plenty of jazz tinges which bring a laid-back sound much like off the album "Bless The Weather" where this artist had started to evolve. Other mixtures in style include some soul and psychedelic flourishes. Martyn and double bassist Danny Thompson do strange things to the blues as well on Skip James' "I'd Rather Be The Devil". The title track is one of the best, a soothing, mystical piece with beautiful vibraphone and sax arrangements. Other favourites are "Don't Want To Know" and "The Man In The Station", especially for the organ work. The sweet folky acoustic lullaby "May You Never" is also a great piece. Martyn was very influential, especially when you consider how much the trippy sound on this release developed over the last thirty to forty years. Excellent album.

Report this review (#621724)
Posted Friday, January 27, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars John Martyn's Solid Air reminds me of what would happen if you combined the intimate chamber folk of Nick Drake with the murky, slightly inebriated atmosphere of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, then added some jazz sensibilities to the mix. The Drake connection, it turns out, is no coincidence - the title track's a tribute to Nick, though as with Drake's own material it's sufficiently lyrically obtuse that I suspect only Martyn and Drake ever knew the real meanin go the song - but the connections to the rest of the British folk scene don't stop there, with various folk luminaries including Richard Thompson serving in Martyn's backing band. The focus, however, is almost always in Martyn's touching vocals, which are able to command the listener's unceasing attention.
Report this review (#898286)
Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Solid Air is an album that puts on display many of the directions available to folk artists.

The album's opener, "Solid Air" (5:46) (9/10) with its xylophone accompaniment shows a very jazzy side.

2. "Over the Hill" (2:51) (9/10) is very bluegrass with its prominent RICHARD THOMPSON (FAIRPORT CONVENTION) mandolin contribution.

3. "Don't Want to Know" (3:01) (7/10) with its fully electrified rock band bleeds into

4. "I'd Rather Be the Devil (Devil Got My Women)" (6:19) (9/10) which is a kind of Beat/bluesy bebop jam.

5. "Go Down Easy" (3:36) (9/10) is one of those timeless STEVE WINWOOD-like beauties that wrenches the heart in a JEWEL-kind of way. Definitely a folk classic.

6. "Dreams by the Sea" (3:18) (9/10) puts a funky BRIAN AUGER-like vibe in your face. Very tight instrumental support from his support band.

7. "May You Never" (3:43) (8/10) is a guitar and voice solo song that became one of Martyn's signature songs and had the distinction of being covered by Eric Clapton four years later on his Slowhand album.

8. "The Man in the Station" (2:54) (9/10) is an edgy song that vacillates between quiet guitar and electronic keyboard to bluesy rock band to great effect. There is also an odd tension of jazz and Latin feel to the song. One of my favorites.

9. "The Easy Blues" (3:22) (7/10) is a very straightforward acoustic blues song in the vein of Robert Johnson and other Southern rockers. A shout out to bassist Danny Thompson for his wonderful contributions.

In my opinion, John Martyn is one of the unsung masters of the prog folk subgenre--and he produced high quality music over the course of a very long career--one in which he continued playing live performances up until just two months before his death in 2009--and one in which he put out over 20 studio albums and over 40 live recordings! Though the Echoplex guitar effects are not heard or used much, John remained fond of the sound throughout his career. I guess the Echoplex sound is one that runs hit or miss with music fans. I personally love it. The John Martyn studio sound is so warm and intimate and Solid Air remains one of my favorite John Martyn albums though it came out over 40 years ago. It makes me wish I had attended one of his concerts. At least we have DVDs to remember him with. This is most definitely a masterpiece of Progressive Folk music.

Report this review (#1453170)
Posted Friday, August 14, 2015 | Review Permalink
4 stars One of the albums I own that keeps drawing me back is John Martyn's 1973 album Solid Air. This magnificent record is suffused with irradiated liquid folk but also holds hidden, dark undercurrents within. The pleasure this album gives never evaporates even after repeated listening, which have been many as I bought it in 1991, in the days before mp3 and downloads when you had to visit a record shop (yes really).

Throughout John Martyn sings with a lazy warmth sometimes loving, other times carnal, there are moments when his voice oozes as if it's melting, the words becoming onomatopoeic. His guitar, fed through his echoplex (a tape delay device which allowed him to sustain notes), is similarity fluid, all heat haze scintillation and smoky scrolls. Particularly on the Skip James song 'I'd rather Be The Devil' which has the same vibe as Jimi Hendrix's aqueous '1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)'. He is ably supported by the great Danny Thompson on bass, providing a supple backbone, who was a great friend of john Martyn playing on many of his albums as well as being a stalwart member of folk rockers Pentangle.

Although released in the seventies tracks like 'Dreams By The Sea' (which is full paranoia and suspicion "Dreaming you've got a lover/Dreaming that there's a killer in your eyes"), the aforementioned 'I'd rather Be The Devil' and title track 'Solid Air' (about the late Nick Drake "I know you/I love you and I can be your friend/I can follow you anywhere even through solid air"), have a timeless and place-less quality. Maybe that's why I never get tired of Solid Air. It keeps returning like waves lapping a shore.

Report this review (#1457845)
Posted Sunday, August 30, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars John Martyn - Solid Air (1973)

It took me a couple of listens, but I can now confirm this is a special slightly progressive folk-rock record with jazz- rock leanings. The thing is, I usually don't listen to introverted sounding artists. John Martyn's music is defenitely artistic, but it sound a bit to background music to my ears. A function I have come to like a bit more since friends do like this kind music.

John Martyn has a gentle voice that is relatively soft in the mix of guitars, drums, bass and piano. All songs have their own sound-pallet with destinctive settings for guitar en keyboard. The power of the record is in the subtle interventions and atmospheric feel. I must admit I find some songs a bit repetitive. The production is quite excellent and modern for its time.

Conclusion. The lable folk-rock might attract listeners who expect something quite different, I'd rather think of 'Solid Air' as an artistic introverted soulrecord with some folkinstruments. Three-and-a-halve stars.

Report this review (#1469416)
Posted Thursday, September 24, 2015 | Review Permalink

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