An artist of reality
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Date: 22 March, 2004

Whoever It Was That Brought Me Here Will Have To Take Me Home. Click on the cover to buy the album and raise money for Christian Aid projects
 
'This is the one we've been waiting for though, and it's a corker.'

Steve Tomkins listens to Martyn Joseph's latest album

A fellow reviewer of mine (whom I shan't name as he once threatened to burn down my tent at a music festival on lesser grounds), on receiving this album, emailed Martyn to say 'Thanks for the nine track promo CD, and when was the actual album coming?'

This is not to say Martyn Joseph sells his fans short, by any stretch of the imagination. He is the living proof that less is more.

His stripped-down one-take production brings you face-to-face, and the nine track album leaves you feeling he said what he came here to say and quit before he started waffling.

20 years ago, most albums were like this, and the curse of the CD is that bands feel they have to throw in fillers to pad out the full 72 minutes. A 72-minute album isn't twice as good as a 36-minuter any more than a three hour film is twice as good as a 90-minuter. Anyway, where was I?

Whoever It Was... is Martyn's first proper new album in four years, though since then he's been far from silent, with a Best Of, two live CDs, a supergroup collaboration and a couple of smaller charity releases.

This is the one we've been waiting for though, and it's a corker.

Shopping list

The opener, Love Is, is an unsentimental celebration of the many faces of real love, one of Martyn and Stewart Henderson's 'shopping list' songs, subtly boosted with a bit of slide guitar.

Wake Me Up used to be a rocker when Martyn first played it on the Faith Folk and Anarchy tour with Tom Robinson and Steve Knightly.

Since then it seems to have nodded off a bit. It's a song about shaking oneself out of spiritual lethargy, and it still works, but it doesn't match the old ballsier wake up call.

Others however are all the more powerful for being laid back. Every Little Sign is the story of a couple who have let things come between them, realising it's not too late and trying to recapture the magic.

Backed by sympathetic fiddle and piano, it's painfully beautiful, and if it doesn't get you right here, you weren't born you were carved.

This Being Woman, you could easily miss on a first listen, but it's another very powerful song. Giving the finger to the rock'n'roll cult of youth, it celebrates the life of an older woman, capturing the tragedy and the dignity and the hope.

As with some of the best songs here, it is co-written with the poet Stewart Henderson, and the pair if them bring the best out in each other.

Life

There are songs about the rain and about mountaineering (actually they're both about life, but it sounds a bit dull when you put it that way). There's a cover of a song by US songwriter Bebo Norman, and there's Martyn in harmonica-puffing 60's protest singer mode.

The closing title track has a slightly hymn-ish feel to it, but a hymn of Leonard Cohen's rather than Charles Wesley's. It's a late night song of resignation, weariness, limping, downheartedness, and carrying on anyhow.

The song, and the album as a whole, confirms Martyn's status as an artist of reality, of real music and real life. He takes you through grief and glory and always leaves you with a sense of hope. Not bad for 36 minutes.

To buy Whoever It Was That Brought Me Here Will Have To Take Me Home and raise money for Christian Aid projects, click here