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One of the most surreal, yet enjoyable, nights of working in the catering industry I have experienced saw me entertaining residents until the wee hours of the morning. These particular B&B guests weren't paying, though, as they had managed to wangle a night's free accommodation, a plate of Nachos and a couple of beers as well. The best thing is, they were getting paid for it, too! But what you get in return belies what you see. This trio of 'gentlemen', very down to Earth, funny senses of humour and a penchant for fun don't seem particularly special when you're showing them to their room, and a quick glance at the bare feet of the guy who seems to be in charge makes you wonder if he forgot his shoes or if this was relaxing away from the pressures of a busy and hectic life.
But give these guys some instruments and ask them to play a set, and you'll get one of the more able and enjoyable sets of music you're likely to hear live. The Martin Harley Band had come for another regular gig. This particular night, they performed to a packed pub, raised the roof and did far too many encores than our bar manager needed to help him kick out! Once things had settled down and the sounds of Nobody's Fool and Chocolate Jesus had faded from my ringing ears, lead performer (guitar/singing) Martin Harley (you can see where the name for the band came from!) handed over their latest CD, entitled 'Money Don't Matter'. They had played a few tracks from it, but being a stickler for what I knew, I preferred the stuff from their previous work to start with.
However, once I fully listened to this album, it started to overtake any other of their music I had heard before, as the lyrics took over and the relaxed atmosphere the music generates started to come into play. From the opening line of the title track: 'Some people think money make the world go round - not me,'; until the final beats of the appropriately entitled 'I Call It A Night', I was hooked, and find myself wandering around, whistling some lines and singing others.
The music is very bluesy in style, and although there is a hint of something else in nearly every track, this seems to be the main genre of music it falls into. Martin likes playing slide guitar, and has grown up with blues, but despite this natural direction, the music of the trio seems to constantly challenge itself, with a lot of jazz and folk entering into the fray. Martin's singing voice dominates, perhaps as some say because it's soulful, perhaps because of the lyrics, as do the strings of various guitars used within the music. Third track Carnival Girl, which starts off with sounds similar to Chris Isaak's 'Wicked Game' is a quiet and morose story that again has money as a feature, and this is a theme that seems to run throughout the album. It's self critical, but if you wanted to read a bit deeper, you could draw from this that your faults are as much a part of you as your attributes. 'I think too much and I drink too much and I know it sounds absurd, but I wouldn't change for the world.' Perhaps my favourite line of the album.
The middle of the album is somewhat experimental compared to the relatively safe and catchy start and finish the album has. There is heavy focus on the instrumental side of things, and harkens back to an acoustic sound that wouldn't be out of place in a Wild West film. Martin's use of his slide guitar is probably best entertained on the fourth track, 'If The World's Gonna Change', an interesting solo effort that suggests a more sombre and relaxed middle album section. It certainly helps the construction, though, as the very next track, 'Can't Help Moving', is probably the one most likely to get people up on their feet. You can't help feeling that the album has been constructed with gigging in mind, and you can tell this is someone who is used to doing small and large gigs on a regular basis, just by the album's construction. There's plenty of variety.
Instrumental tracks are always touch and go, for me, as I do prefer something I can sing along to. However, the beauty of the harmonica in 'Single Harp Sundays' really relaxed me in preparation for the rest of the album. It was a nice touch, which led on very nicely to 'Lonely With You'. Cleverly, having had the break from singing in the previous track, I find myself listening to the lyrics here a lot more than the other tracks, as if they are something new on the album. It was a really good way of bringing the singing back into things, and reminded me of something Martin had told me, which was that the lyrics were never just meaningless. He writes based on his experiences, and being well travelled, on his own or with his band mates, the stories through his albums, and not just this one, are really intriguing. It makes you want to ask him whether he really did have that experience at the Carnival, and whether 'I Call It A Night' relates to his night owl tendencies or not.
Moving away from earlier albums which featured covers, this has a very personal feel to it, here. I love the philosophy about money featured in the title track, how he says that you can't buy grace and love. I tried calling the man himself, to get a true personal opinion on the album for the purposes of writing this. He emailed me back with a mixture of randomness and a busy feeling, just off on his way to Glastonbury, and I couldn't help remember just how casual and relaxed he always seems, and I think this is what I like about his music: the fact that it shines through just how down to earth he can be. We have a tendency to forget that people in the limelight are as much human beings as we all are, but with that extra bit more caution, wondering whether people are friendly to you because they like you or because you're famous. The Martin Harley Band hovers somewhere in the middle of this in terms of celebrity status, I suppose. They're released artists, but without the huge commercial exposure that will inevitably come at some point very soon. But it's the down to earth nature of all of them that I like. They're a great laugh, fun to have a beer with, keen to continue playing a wide stretch of venues and release albums such as 'Money Don't Matter'.
There is a very bluesy feel to the album, which is perhaps best capped off by 'Blues At My Window' which is true to the feel and legend of blues, with heartache and true feeling coming through with the acoustic guitar sounds and emotional lyrics shining through. The album is currently available from amazon.co.uk for £8.99. Having a hunt round might find you a better price. Either way, I can highly recommend their music, as there is some traditional blues mixed in with some funkier and more commercial sounds as well. A very well structured album from some down to earth and humble guys, it has become my favourite of their small collection, despite previous albums' excellence, and even though I have played it over and over again, I don't have overkill, and it's not likely for this to change. Highly recommended.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Money Don't Matter
3 Carnival Girl
4 If The World's Gonna Change
5 Can't Help Moving
6 Single Harp Sundays
7 Lonely With You
8 This Ocean
9 Blues At My Window
10 Somebody New
11 I Call It A Night