Blueblood Records [Release date 06.12.19]
Eddie Martin’s ‘Thirst’ is an excellent contemporary blues album with strong songs and inspired playing sparked by a sense of adventure.
He is one of the UK most underrated blues artists. Were he a footballer he would be regarded as a quality utility player, capable of excelling in whatever position he’s asked to play.
In musical terms, it means he’s an equally good singer-songwriter, blues harp player, guitarist, one man band and big band leader. On this album he is the creative pivot of a sextet that has the ability to dig deep for grooves and blend together interwoven lines with shimmering tones that contribute to an enveloping whole.
The husky voiced Martin revels in stylistic diversity and lyrical imagery which gives the album its thrust. His thoughtful lyrics match his carefully chosen guitar tones on an album that reveals more with each play.
His intricate sonic detail consistently matches lyrical intent, particularly on the meditative ‘Imagine Us From The Sky’.
Coming close to the three-quarter mark of the album, it’s one of those songs that might be easily overlooked, which would be a pity as it’s a gem. A call for a sense of common ground is seen from a birds-eye point of view: “Though there’s difference, It doesn’t have to make us fight, There’s abundance, enough for all of us to get by. There’s no borders, To the birds up there as they fly, Imagine us from the sky.”
He further interweaves his poignant lines with some tremulous wah-wah inflected slide, on a great example of how his tones mirror the deeply wrought emotions of his lyrics.
In the above context alone, the album title ‘Thirst’ might be regarded as a conceptual thread, akin to an emotional hunger, even if it’s often closely associated with a recurring use of water as a metaphor.
‘Thirst’ is old school album – think an integrated whole with contemporary standards – and opens with the caustic harp and guitar riff driven ‘One Man Band’.
Contrary to expectations, it’s a song about Memphis one man band entertainer Richard Johnston, and not Martin himself.
It’s given extra heft by an unusual percussive vocal effect from co-producer Joe Garcia and levers us into a rich musical journey that is anchored by the blues, but never weighed down by it. Put simply, ‘Thirst’ is contemporary blues on Eddie’s own terms.
From the piano, slide and harp inflected stomp of ‘Sewn Up’ with its clever lyrical duality, through the wah-wah inflected funk of ‘Searching For Home’, Eddie Martin fills his musical palette with everything he has to give.
His subtle use of intricate guitar work, occasional double tracking and a magnificent growling wah-wah solo emphasizes the biting lyrics as it moves towards a concise, funky staccato finish: “Searching for a place to call home, A space that’s safe to call your own, When all of your hope is gone, You’ve gotta move on, You’ve gotta move on.”
His lyrics studiously eschew cliché and always search for deep meaning, as on ‘Free Man Blues’, which is a cleverly layered track full of slide and deft harp squalls, with echoes of Dylan in both subject matter and phrasing.
‘Like Water’ is an outstanding slow building blues predicated on an acoustic intro, Dan Moore’s nuanced electric piano and Eddie’s close to the mic husky emotive phrasing, which lifts the words from the page and into the heart of the track.
It’s also the moment when his artistic endeavour is transformed by the emotional drive of the song to another level. His guitar playing evokes real feel, as everything explodes gloriously to express the power of his metaphorical river, on a career highlight: “Like the river, I can be relied on, Deep constant and moving, Like the rapids I will excite you, and dance you wild as a dervish. Our love is just like water.”
This self produced album has an essential flow that threads together a wide ranging aggregation of songs. It’s all about song and note choice, tonal colour and a band that always supports the bigger picture.
Having hit an emotional high on ‘Like Water’, Martin opts for an Elmore James style lick as the backbone to another song about water, ‘Run River Run’. There a big Jonny Henderson B3 break, some raucous slide playing and Tom Gilkes crisp cymbal and busy percussion work on a song that exudes power and potential freedom, but always like a: “thread on an eternal wheel.”
There’s also a moving homage to the New Orleans ‘Queen of Gospel’ Mahalia Jackson, on a 2nd line groove called ‘Louisiana Woman’ that illustrates just one Eddie Martin verse can encapsulate a song as a whole: “Her voice could make a mountain shake, Her honesty no-one could shake, She fought the fight for civil rights, Never strayed from what was right.”
There’s still time for an exhilarating shuffle ‘Silver Spoon’ and the jangling guitar and timeless blues-harp riff of the percussive ‘Fix It’, both of which inexorably lead to the defining imagery laden book-end ‘Frozen Lake’.
The latter sounds like a cross between a Ry Cooder film noir sound track with gothic Nick Cave vocals, complete with a big echo tremolo sound and gospel bv’s.
It’s also the final piece of an accessible, organic and at times poetic musical jigsaw that is born in the blues, but is ultimately stretched to the outer limits by a song such as this.
‘Thirst’ is adventurous album by a mature blues artist who draws on his accumulated knowledge and musical ability to produce a weighty career high. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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