1973: John Martyn - Inside Out

Of all the musicians who attempted to marry modern jazz/rock ideas with traditional British folk in the late '60s/early '70s, John Martyn was the most challenging and aggressive. He had others giving him a run for his money, sure -- Richard Thompson attacked the guitar with Sufi focus and clarity; Bert Jansch often employed a sharp, metallic edge in his work; and John Renbourn was capable of guitar maelstroms -- but when it came down to it, no one was as out-there as Martyn, as experimental in their approach, or as violent in their vocal delivery. Martyn could coo with the best of them, but he seemed more at home howling, growling, and slurring his lyrics over wildly distorted -- and Echoplex-laden -- guitar work. And while his early work with wife Beverly often rocked gently like American contemporaries The Byrds or national kin Fairport Convention, his solo albums, starting with 1968’s London Conversation, found him blending American blues, jazz, and world music to startling effect. 1970’s Stormbringer! introduced the Echoplex to his sound, and by 1973’s Solid Air and Inside Out, it had defined it; both albums bare little resemblance to what was going on in contemporary music, let alone folk at that time. But while Solid Air maintained significant footing in folk standards, Inside Out did not. This is Martyn cut loose: long stretches of distorted jazz punctuated by funky drum kit work, Danny Thompson’s slippery, singing double-bass, washes of saxophone, and Steve Winwood’s deft synthesizer coloring.

“It felt natural,” Martyn can be heard saying amidst studio clatter as the album starts, and it’s easy to see why the statement was included on the final recording. For all of Inside Out’s excursions and risks, the record does indeed feel “natural” -- a noted influence of the Coltranes (John and Alice) and their saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. Martyn confessed: “The only reason I bought the Echoplex was to try and imitate Sanders’ sustain on my guitar... I pursued the fuzz box and its various accompanying things just to try and get the sustain that you can get from a sax.”

Subsequently, Inside Out embraces multicultural dialog, with American, British, and African ideas all given equal footing. One of two songs not written by Martyn, “Eibhli Ghail chiuin ni Chearbhall” is the album’s most telling moment. A traditional folk melody is rendered nearly unrecognizable by the long passages of feedback and echo, bringing to mind the work of Brian Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets. Considering the similarities, it’s not difficult to imagine Eno owning a copy of Inside Out. The second cover, "The Glory of Love," is one of the album’s sweetest moments, a poppy cut of bouncy bass and plucked blues guitar, with Martyn’s worn-in voice sounding genuine and tender.

Martyn’s originals are equally telling of his headspace at the time. Opener “Fine Lines” extols the virtues of friendship, noting the kinship Martyn felt with his collaborators, particularly Thompson, who was one of the few musicians able to keep up with his notorious drug and alcohol consumption. “Make No Mistake” makes explicit reference to said hard-living: "If I can’t be a happy man/ I won’t be one at all/ To be dead drunk on the floor/ To get up and ask for more/ If I can’t get everything I want/ I’ll just get what I can." Maryn’s reputation is legendary; the man was a brawler, prone to exploding, drink-fueled rage, and the music makes no attempt hide this. His voice is most easily recognizable as a punk rock attribute, but his guitar playing is just as defiant. On the largely instrumental “Outside In,” his playing veers from restrained to free-jazz explosive, and “Look In,” buoyed by a tribal, shifting groove, features a bevy of effects pedals, including his signature Echoplex augmented with wah-wah and fuzzed, bluesy leads.

And while Martyn’s work is often defined by its baiting stance, Inside Out is a testament to the struggle between his sneering idiosyncrasies and his desire to create truly transcendent music. “Beverly,” named for his wife, is a gorgeous instrumental, showcasing passion and grace while still incorporating the album's psychedelic touchstones. “Ways to Cry” is similarly unguarded; recalling the pastoral calm of Maryn’s friend Nick Drake, it blends the full band arrangements of Bryter Layter with the soft-focus acoustics of Pink Moon. "If I ever took another one/ I was crying for you," Martyn sings with guilty honesty. “So Much In Love With You” further states the album’s overarching message: “The concept of love is what Inside Out is all about,” Martyn said, and he sings "‘Cause I’m so much in love with you baby/ I just can’t seem to see it clear." The tension between being who you believe you should be and being who you are is ultimately what makes for such a compelling listen. Where previous album’s precariously balanced traditional forms with more experimental ones, the thrust of Inside Out is a personal balancing; the songs are fully out-there, but the spiritual tug of war is still very much occurring.

Martyn’s future work would find him performing with Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, David Gilmour, and Lee “Scratch” Perry while exploring and integrating elements of electronica, reggae, and pop into his music. It’s debatable how listenable later albums like Glorious Fool are, but with an early canon containing so many undeniable gems, Martyn’s legacy is secured as one of the most electrifying, bizarrely singular artists of any genre. He passed away earlier this year, and Inside Out is certainly one of the best ways to remember and honor him. It is a contrarian, deeply personal album, featuring many of his most jaw-dropping songs.

1. Fine Lines
2. Elbhli Ghail chin Chearbhail
3. Ain’t No Saint
4. Outside In
5. The Glory of Love
6. Look In
7. Beverley
8. Make No Mistakes
9. Ways to Cry
10. So Much in Love With You

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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