I don’t believe in tribute albums. Too often populated with the work of second-rate artists or stars phoning it in, you’re better off listening to the originals.
But what if you don’t know the originals?
I’ve got seven John Martyn tracks in my iTunes library, I love "Head & Heart", but to say I’m familiar with his catalogue would not only be a stretch, it would be patently untrue.
And if there’s any hype on this package, it eluded me. But I got such a passionate e-mail from someone who has liked my recommendations, I checked it out, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it, it’s all I’ve played since.
There are thirty tracks, it’s overwhelming, so I’ve cherry-picked gems to get you started. The rest are never bad, but these are stellar.
1. Beck "Stormbringer"
He wrote one of the most famous tracks of the nineties, "Loser", and then was so overhyped it was hard to take him seriously, the hipsters were fawning all over him. But this is so ethereal, so magical, I’m instantly a fan again. It’s only marginally different from the original, but Beck’s recording is so majestic, and the change will blow your mind.
If you liked King Crimson, if you like your music to exist in its own vacuum, with no tentacles to anything else, you’ll love this. It hearkens back to the Middle Ages, I cannot get it out of my head, it’s a great antidote to the b.s. of every day life. Play it.
But so much of the best music is.
2. David Gray "Let The Good Things Come"
He triumphed with "White Ladder" but has been sliding ever since. But this is a complete return to form, if you were ever a fan, you’ll dig this. Gray has a way of conveying one man alone in his own home after dark with a bottle contemplating his future. It’s so personal, it’s unnerving, almost creepy.
This sounds like nothing on the hit parade, it jolts you into the realization that what is sold down the highway of hits lacks so much of the essence of music.
3. Judy Tzuke "Hurt In Your Heart"
This will have you Googling. You can place the name, but not the story.
She’s been at it forever, but is still essentially unknown, at least in the U.S.
It’s not about melisma, range, it’s about selling the song. And Tzuke does it exquisitely here. There’s the intimacy and passion of the early Elton John records, even though this really sounds nothing like them.
4. Morcheeba/Bradley Burgess "Run Honey Run"
Morcheeba had their moment in the States, but it was minor. I always liked them, but they dropped off my radar. But this is almost as infectious as the Beck cut, even though it sounds completely different.
A great track is one that affects you emotionally, gets the blood pulsing, has your head nodding to the beat, following the groove.
Like the rest of the tracks here, subtlety is key. But if you can slow down enough to let this penetrate you, you’ll smile.
5. Beth Orton "Go Down Easy"
She was always great, but she’s been in hiding. The era when she broke disappeared. But that doesn’t mean she’s still not great.
It’s like you open the door to the woman of your dreams. But she’s not an empty vessel like Kim Kardashian, not someone selling their body but someone leading with their mind, their emotions. If you ever liked Orton, you’ll like this.
6. Emperors Of Wyoming "Bless The Weather"
I assume they’re named after the Neil Young instrumental, but I’m clueless as to who they are. This sounds nothing like the foregoing tracks, but it’s infectious in its own way. Like stumbling across a band with a stinging electric guitar around a campfire on the high plains.
Everything you thought music once was, this is.
It’s got nothing to do with the hype machine. There’s no obvious selling point other than the tracks themselves.
I’m not saying everybody’s going to like this stuff, but if you ever laid on your bedroom floor in the seventies and stared at the ceiling as the music pouring through your headphones put you in a trance, you’ll dig this.
I could say more, but words pale in comparison to listening. Those to whom this doesn’t appeal will scratch their heads and say I’m an idiot. But a certain cadre will cry Eureka! and be reinvigorated, will tell all their friends, want to go to a gig, believe that music is back.
Although I gave a few YouTube links, I couldn’t find the rest of the songs there, but you can find them all on Spotify, search on "Johnny Boy Would Love This….A Tribute to John Martyn"
This is the e-mail that got me to listen:
When you told me about Bettye LaVette I listened
When you showed me Stevie Winwood I lit a fire and dusted off my guitar.
When you saw J Brown live I rushed out to buy tickets.
When you went back stage with Lars I was there with you. (in spirit)
When you review Adele I agreed
Now let me do you a favor…………………….John Martyn Tribute.
I bet you cannot turn it off after the first track.
It is everything that you talk about below. It is for the fans by the fans, which in this case includes Beck and David Gray and Robert Smith. No Hype and very little buzz, but word of mouth will send this collection into every corner of the globe.
JM died last year. Sex drugs and rock and roll took another postwar UK artist. Signed to Island he was a favorite of Chris Blackwell and a disciple of Nick Drake.
I could go on but you do not have time. Better you spend the next 8 minutes listening to Let The Good Things Come (David Gray) from the Tribute Album – Johnny Boy Would Love This. If you can turn it off you would have wasted 8 minutes. If you love it you will have been introduced to a whole new world of music fans. I am not in the business I have no reason to write to you other than to return the favor..