by Ian Mann
June 10, 2009
Contemporary blues/rock from one of Britain's finest performers.
West Country based Eddie Martin is one of Britain’s finest blues performers and an artist with an international reputation. As a bluesman Martin has it all, a talented guitarist, virtuoso harmonica player and a more than capable vocalist. He writes quality original material in the blues idiom and with his consistently engaging stage shows is a great live act.
The versatile Martin performs as one man band (guitar, harp, voice and foot percussion), in a trio format accompanied by drums and bass and occasionally with a “big band” that adds keyboards and horns to the line up. A hard working musician he convinces in any context and plays gigs from village halls to major festivals.
I first saw Martin some seven years ago playing a one man show at the Victory pub in Hereford. On the very first number he broke a string but instead of stopping to change it the indomitable Martin played on blowing his harp and stamping his foot, the music continuing unabated as he changed the string-I was impressed. There’s nothing like a spot of adversity to get the audience on your side and Martin won the Hereford crowd over in a flash. I later asked him if this was a trick he pulled at every gig. “No it effing wasn’t!” he said with feeling, but good natured with it. Martin is an honest down to earth guy who always gives of his best in a live situation and treats his fans with respect.
I’ve seen Martin solo or with a trio several times since, the latest being a one man show at Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire where Eddie was kind enough to give me a copy of this, his latest available release for review. Described by it’s creator as a “blues rock record” “Contrary Mary” appears on Martin’s own Blueblood label and features an expanded line up of Martin (vocals, guitars, harmonicas), Marlon Dalton (bass), Michael Wiedrich (drums), Gary Baldwin (Hammond organ) and Gurmit Singh (dol drums) plus a trio of backing vocalists- Dolly James, Nadine Gingell and Dee Jarlett.
The album’s sleek and shiny production rounds off some of Martin’s rough edges but his guitar playing still has plenty of bite on the opening title track, the cautionary tale of a psychologically damaged femme fatale.
“Something About You Baby (I Like)” isn’t the twee pop song suggested by the title but a Free like rocker complete with female backing vocals. Martin’s blues/rock guitar playing throughout the album has something of a Paul Kossoff/Mick Ralphs feel to it. Indeed much of the record has a definite seventies ambience albeit one laced with a contemporary edge.
The apocalyptic “Watching The Weather” throws an unusual eastern influence into the mix courtesy of Singh’s dol drums. Martin’s harmonica growls and threatens and Wiedrich and Singh keep up a relentless rhythmic attack. I suspect that Mr Martin may have been listening to Led Zep and come up with something reminiscent of both “Kashmir” and “When The Levee Breaks”. Whatever it’s sources “Watching The Weather” is an impressive song in it’s own right.
“Month Of Mondays” is a slice of unpretentious blues boogie with lively harp and guitar solos plus some help from the girls on the chorus. The backing vocalists also add something of a gospel flavour to the growling swamp blues of “Beautiful Miracles”. “Give It Time” is a blues shuffle with Martin’s fiery guitar soloing the main point of interest.
“Better The Devil You Know” paints a grim picture of urban America whilst simultaneously attacking religious charlatans. Martin sometimes throws in some sharp social comment among the stock blues images. Musically it lifts the album again after the trio of competent but rather pedestrian songs immediately preceding it and serves to illustrate Martin’s excellent skills as a slide guitarist.
“Strong For You” is less distinguished, another blues/boogie/gospel flavoured stomp but the fiery “Living For The Weekend” is irresistible. Based on the classic Bo Diddley beat this celebration of good times harbours some pleasingly blistering harp and guitar.
The closing “Ingolstadt” is a road tale given the big blues ballad/lighter waving treatment. It’s a popular set closer at Martin’s live shows, even in the one man format.
“Contrary Mary” is a perfectly presentable contemporary blues record, perhaps not Martin’s best but certainly a worthy addition to the canon. As a genre I find blues to be essentially a live music, preferably in a pub setting and given the chance I’d go and see Martin again tomorrow. On CD the music invariably loses some of it’s visceral appeal and the limitations of the style become apparent.
For all Martin’s abilities there are moments here that are frankly a bit dull but which would sound great in a live context. And it’s as a live performer that I’d recommend anybody reading this to see Martin. His records are totally competent and excellent gig souvenirs but on the road is this man’s natural habitat. Catch him if you can.