on 1 April 2013
Let me start by saying I am a fully signed-up John Martyn fan, having seen him live over 30 times from the early 80s, up to the final gig a few weeks before his death - hence this review is somewhat biased. I like virtually everything he's done. If you are a more casual fan, this may not be for you.
Many of John Martyn fans bemoan his abandonment of the acoustic (and to some extent even the electric guitar) in his later work, as he made greater use of synths and drum machines. This album is clearly a product of the 80s; lots of Linn Drum, lots of very digital sounding keyboards, etc. But it also has what all great John Martyn albums have; wonderful songs, sung by that beautiful voice...
The title track, Fisherman's Dream, Mad Dog Days and Coming in on Time all rank among his best.
If you are a fan of his whole career and find yourself able to enjoy John's work after he ceased to be primarily an acoustic artist, the highlights of Sapphire shine very brightly indeed.
on 29 January 2015
Apparently my craving for John Martyn output is unabated - even after purchasing the box sets Ain't no saint and The Island Years after several deluxe editions of his work I decided to buy Sapphire (and Piece by Piece) in the 2015 edition.
This edition of Sapphire consists of 2 cd's, one of which being totally superfluous from my point of view, as it is included in the Island Years box, leaving the defense of this edition to the second disc featuring an alternate mix of the entire album, a few rarities and 3 concert recordings. And even this second disc contains several tracks already found on the Island Years box.
The alternative version of Sapphire is quite good and certainly different from the original one - one can hear different textures. I still prefer the original mix as it seems to be more uncluttered, but it's an interesting view on the same material. Of the remaining tracks, there's one featuring a choir which was meant to be on the original album, but as JM disliked the result it was (wisely) left off. The live tracks are really good, just a pity that there's so few of them.
The liner notes were penned by the knowledgeable John Hillarby (like in practically all JM releases). The packaging is disappointing though - the cd's are housed in one of those frustrating foldout jewel cases which cease to function properly very quickly - unless housing unwanted cd's you're not going to play anyway. Compared to earlier deluxe releases of Solid Air, One World and the like this is a major step back.
I've always loved this album and the title song has often had me reaching for the repeat button. It certainly is one of JM's best post-70's albums and this edition is the best choice if you're looking for this wonderful album. On the other hand, if you're already cherishing your Island Years box then this edition offers too little to warrant a purchase. It does give you the complete alternate mix version on the second cd (not complete in the IY box) and some unreleased (live) tracks but I must admit feeling a bit cheated - the second cd should really have been filled with stuff that doesn't feature on the IY box.
on 14 June 2013
Sapphire (1884) - John, who at this time in his career hardly played the acoustic guitar/folk sound in favour of a glossy pop/rock sound. Not one for people who want a lot of John's guitar playing.
Recorded at Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas and CaVa Sound Workshops, Glasgow, Scotland, the album released by Island, ILPS 9779, with cover photography by Anton Corbijn and a cover illustration by Cathie Felstead.
I don't know who was going to produce this originally but after arguments John self-produced it ably assisted in the later stages of the recording by Robert Palmer. Comment from John at the time"Actually it almost didn't happen, the production team had all fallen out, no-one was taking responsibility for anything, too much rum was being consumed all over the place, so I got Robert Palmer in who brought in some other excellent musicians, and that was it......it was all down to Robert in the end".
John Martyn - guitars, vocals, Linn drums, Barry Reynolds - guitar, Alan Thomson - bass guitar, keyboards, Linn drums, Jack Waldman - keyboards, Jim Prime - keyboards, Robin Rankin - keyboards, James Hooker - keyboards, Steven Stanley - Linn Drums, Andy Lyden - Linn drums, Uziah "Sticky" Thompson - percussion, Colin Tully - saxophones, Morwenne Laidlaw - harmonies, Terry Nelson - harmonies, Lorna Brooks - harmonies.
As seen from the above line-up, Linn Drums & keyboards aplenty with the guitars being 'treated' only the saxophone ends up being 'organic'. A well put together, well played wall of sound from the band with John's strong singing holding it all together and stopping it sliding into 'Muzak'. You can obviously hear the Robert Palmer influences in the music if you are au fait with his albums.
1 Sapphire (J. Martyn) - great chugging opener, then John joins in with a great vocal and his lyrics once again about lost love. Classic song.
2 Over The Rainbow (H. Arlen, C. Harburg)- not a song I'm over fond of (done by anybody) I suppose John makes as good as fist of it as anyone, being melancholic & wistful.
3 You Know (J. Martyn) - another of John's love songs but a more positive (R. Palmer could have covered this easily)
'Every day I see your face
It makes this world a better place for me to be
A better place for me to be
And every time I touch your hand
My troubles fade like grains of sand, and trickle away'.
4 Watching Her Eyes (J. Martyn) - opening verse
'Women know protraction
As they cut it into sections
She's just splitting
All throughout the crazy action
Counting every fraction every bird that flies'.
Now how many songs do you know with 'protraction' in?
5 Fisherman's Dream (J. Martyn) - beautiful dreamy song once again sung as only John could, another classic song one of my all time favourites, one to chill to of an evening.
6 Acid Rain (J. Martyn, A. Thomson) - Funky opening metronomic drumbeat,treated guitars/keyboards odd bits of percussion then John's away with another terrific vocal, an ecology song? Or a disguised lost love song? I'm never sure with John.
7 Mad Dog Days (J. Martyn, A. Thomson) - One of my favourite songs from the album, what's it about? Is it a love affair gone wrong or is it about Mrs Thatcher? You decide.
8 Climb The Walls (J. Martyn) - the tune wouldn't be out of place on a Palmer album but the vocal is pure John
9 Coming On Time (J. Martyn) - 'Said she's coming in on the high tide
She's a healer, she can see
She's the sapphire
I know she left when I was a baby
But she never let me down
Shes coming back to take me away
Shes coming in on time...'
10 Rope-Soul'd (J. Martyn, A. Thomson, B. Reynolds) - brooding moody piece to close the album with another of John's mighty vocals, I would say that that was what John was concentrating on on this album at the expense of his guitar work.
So 'Sapphire', 'Fisherman's Dream', Mad Dogs Days' & Rope-Soul'd are classic songs to join John's canon of work, the rest filler? maybe but John's filler is normally 10 times better than most artistes best work.
Other albums from the 80's I mean to review in the next year are Glorious Fool (1981), Well Kept Secret (1982), The Electric John Martyn (1982), Philentropy (1983)(live) & Foundations (1987)
Not much to say,really...I love Johnny.A great voice,a great guitarist(the earlier records demonstrate this so much better than the later),and A huge talent.Phil Collins and Clapton attempted to make him a "star",but he was never that,in the usual way of speaking.He was a star to me,and although I cannot say I regard every offering as highly as those from Bless the Weather to Sunday's Child,I still find much to enjoy in all his output.This is a new one on me,the 2 disc set.Therefore,although having the single cd,it was self recommending.More Johnnie?How could I not get this?
And I enjoyed the second disc.Worth purchasing for any admirer of JM.I just want more of him...maybe there are still things in the vault...fingers crossed!
John Martyn's penultimate LP for Island, gets the deluxe treatment.
What do you get for your money;
2CDs The original album on Disc 1 mastered well not too loud.
On Disc 2 it gets more interesting, an alternative mix of the album rejected at the time for no apparent reason other than it did not sound contemporary enough, (For the record it sounds great).
Two alternate mixes of 'Love in Your life' and 'Fisherman's dream' and 3 tracks live from Hamburg recorded in 1986 including 'Fisherman's Dream' and Over the Rainbow', and contemporary to 7 tracks on the Deluxe edition of 'Piece by Piece' (also available on Amazon) You can never have enough Live JM either so this really is a good album (Not the best JM album) and a worthy deluxe edition.
Even better still it comes in a jewel case, with copious notes. Kick back and enjoy