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Martyn Joseph - Martyn Joseph
Last week, we went to see Martyn Joseph at Haren Church, near Brussels airport. I don't not what surprised me more, that a Welsh singer-songwriter should turn up at a small venue in cold, dark Flanders or that this was the fifth successive year he had been there. We had seen him once before, back at Spring Harvest in Minehead in 1996, and had a couple of his albums. One of these, the eponymously entitled Martyn Joseph is the subject of this review.
==== MARTYN JOSEPH - WHO IS HE? ====
Martyn Joseph was born in Penarth in 1960, and came to prominence in the 1980s, primarily among Christian circles. As he said in his self-deprecating manner at the concert, he was originally classified as a rock and pop artist, then this changed to folk, and most recently, a new category has been found, that of funk folk. He is a singer-songwriter, whose material is not overtly Christian as some of his earliest work (as is his album 'Ballads'), but which covers a number of the issues that tend to get skirted round in the folk genre, more of which later. He has a real sense of his Welsh heritage, has a strong desire for social justice, and in the promotional literature was described as the Welsh Bruce Springsteen (which might have been over-egging the pudding a little).
==== THE ALBUM ====
The two most distinctive features about the music on this album (and his music in general) are the accomplished, rich and vibrant acoustic guitar, and the raw, emotional power of his voice, with just a hint of Welsh lilt. There are also some keyboards and synthesisers in various of the tracks, but they are very much backing instruments, and the emphasis is very much on the guitar.
For me, the stand out track is 'Cardiff Bay', the story of a Sunday spent with his 4 year old son by the sea, after he was upset at church. It is a simple, moving song that captures the emotions of being a father of a young child, wanting to show him your home town, teach him some of its history, and hoping that this day will mean something to him in years to come:
On a Sunday over Cardiff Bay
This is one day of our lives
And on a Sunday over Cardiff Bay
Know that I love you
I hope that's alright...
All of my life....
The atmosphere is enhanced by some Celtic pipes, which bring a hint of the sea to my mind's eye.
A couple of the songs deal with the struggles of making marriage work, in spite of the twin problems of busy lives and temptations faced when travelling for work. 'Let's talk about in the morning' conveys the staleness and ennui that came afflict long term relationships, and the way in which all discussion of difficult issues is put off to avoid conflict. I found this very honest. 'Home to you' gives a glimpse of the potential frisson of a fling while away from home, but the triumphant chord in the second verse shows the temptation has been successfully resisted.
Joseph's wider social commentary is evident in 'Condition of My Heart', where the insistent guitar rhythm is combined with coruscating criticism of hypocrisy and injustice, before the twist at the end of the song, which comes with the line "there's none that's so blind as they that can't see / and right now that finger's pointing at me". Throughout the CD, Joseph's complete honesty when dealing with issues is compelling, whether they are big and existential questions ('Everything in Heaven comes apart' and 'If Heaven's waiting') or in day-to-day situations. There is also a hope for a better world which comes across in the lighter, more upbeat tone of 'Change your world', 'Between the Raindrops' and 'Carried in Sunlight'.
==== OVERALL ASSESSMENT ====
I really like this album. The music is polished, engaging and vibrant, while the lyrics have a depth and honesty which can be challenging, and are not at all syrupy or sentimental. I came back to this CD after the concert last week, which reminded me of the power of his work, and these songs capture the daily struggles of a young working father in Wales. As I hinted earlier, this is not a Christian music album in any real sense, but definitely belongs in the folk rock category. It is a really enjoyable listen, and I shall be digging out a couple of his other albums as well soon. Overall, I would give it 8 out of 10.
==== TRACK LISTINGS ====
1. Change Your World (3:46)
2. Gift To Me (4:01)
3. Between The Raindrops (4:37)
4. Talk About It In The Morning (4:26)
5. Everything In Heaven Comes Apart (4:16)
6. Home To You (4:29)
7. If I Should Fall (4:54)
8. If Heaven's Waiting (4:16)
9. Condition Of My Heart (3:24)
10. Cardiff Bay (5:02)
11. Carried In Sunlight (4:39)
Release year 1995
Available from partnerstores_uk (amazon marketplace) for £7.45
Martyn Joseph's official website is http://www.martynjoseph.co.uk/
His record label is http://www.piperecords.co.uk/martynj/
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Change Your World
2 Gift To Me
3 Between The Raindrops
4 Talk About It In The Morning
5 Everything In Heaven Comes Apart
6 Home To You
7 If I Should Fall
8 If Heaven's Waiting
9 Condition Of My Heart
10 Cardiff Bay
11 Carried In Sunlight