Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

236

John and Beverley Martyn: John and Beverley Martyn: The Road To Ruin

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
John and Beverley Martyn

The Road To Ruin

Universal/Island

2005 (1970)

The posthumous release of guitarist/vocalist/songwriter John Martyn's Heaven And Earth (Hole In The Rain, 2011)—the basic tracks extensively overdubbed, though not edited, by producers Garry Pollitt and Jim Tullio following Martyn's death in 2009—is welcome. Compositionally, it is not one of Martyn's greatest albums, but it contains enough gritty blues/rock guitar, and retentions of the spacey vocal style with which Martyn forged some of his reputation, to satisfy his longtime followers. More than anything though, Heaven And Earth serves to remind us of Martyn's multifaceted 40-year discography, and the above-average proportion of masterworks within it.

Key among those masterworks is 1970's The Road To Ruin. This was the second, and final, album Martyn made with his wife, vocalist/songwriter Beverley, and followed the duo's Stormbringer (Island), released earlier the same year. A more genuinely collaborative effort than Stormbringer, the nine tracks which made up the original LP release of The Road To Ruin include one written by Beverley ("Primrose Hill") and three others jointly composed by Beverley and John ("Auntie Aviator," "Sorry To Be So Long," "Say What You Can"), on all four of which Beverley takes lead vocals. It is these tracks, along with Paul Wheeler's "Give Us A Ring," written for singer/songwriter Nick Drake and the only track on the album not composed by the Martyns, which give the album so much of its affective power and historical resonance. About this, more in a moment.

The other characteristic which distinguishes The Road To Ruin, and made it so adventurous for its time, is the instrumentation. In essence, the music is a folk/rock hybrid played by an acoustic (guitar and bass guitar aside) jazz lineup. The band included three of London's ranking jazz saxophonists: Ray Warleigh, Lyn Dobson (also heard on flute) and South African émigré Dudu Pukwana, each given ample solo space. They are heard alongside John Martyn on guitars (and the Echoplex introduced on Stormbringer), John and Beverley on vocals, pianist and co-arranger Paul Harris, drummers Wells Kelly and Mike Kowalski, and conga player Rocky Dzidzornu. Three bassists are variously employed, including, on one track, "New Day," acoustic player Danny Thompson, on the first of his studio recordings with Martyn.

Much of the horn work was added by producer (and folk/rock Svengali) Joe Boyd after the basic tracks were laid down. Pukwana, for instance, recorded a second solo on top of his extended primary solo on "Road To Ruin," consciously recreating a traditional African call and response pattern. Martyn later expressed reservations about this aspect of the album, saying the overdubs undermined the organic, in-the-moment feel he wanted. The criticism, however, was likely prompted by some other dispute Martyn was having with Boyd at the time, for The Road To Ruin, post-production and all, still sounds as in-the-moment as it gets. It reeks of atmosphere, one laden with incense, herbal aromas and a sense of community.

Which brings us to the historical resonance mentioned above. In commercial terms, The Road To Ruin was small fry: Martyn's breakthrough came a little later, with Bless The Weather (Island, 1971) and Solid Air (Island, 1973). But the album (with its pitch perfect Max Ernst front cover illustration) was common currency among London's counterculture, in no small part because of the Martyns' well known enjoyment of hash and weed, which seeps out of every groove and which is explicitly referenced in "Primrose Hill," "Auntie Aviator" and "Give Us A Ring." In its own, more pastoral way, "Auntie Aviator"—which starts unremarkably, but rapidly evolves into something mysterious and other, via the lyrics, Beverley's vocal delivery and John's theremin-like guitar lines—was in Britain as much of a psychedelic rallying cry as Grace Slick's "White Rabbit," from the Jefferson Airplane's album Surrealistic Pillow (RCA Victor, 1967), had been three years earlier. Martyn continued to enjoy dope for the rest of his life, and went through the statutory cocaine binge; the damage was done later by alcohol addiction.

But you don't have to have been there to enjoy it. The Road To Ruin, with all its historical baggage—societal and, informed as it so pervasively was by the Martyns' lifestyle, domestic—still sounds as exalted as it ever did.

This remastered edition closes with the previously unreleased "Here I Am," contemporaneously recorded and written and sung by Beverley Martyn, with heavy rock guitar accompaniment by John. It is interesting to hear, but not of a piece with the rest of the disc.

Tracks: Primrose Hill; Parcels; Auntie Aviator; New Day; Give Us A Ring; Sorry To Be So Long; Tree Green; Say What You Can; Road To Ruin; Here I Am.

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Shop Music & Tickets

Click any of the store links below and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Read Full House Reassessing
Full House
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: January 12, 2018
Read Of Things Not Seen Reassessing
Of Things Not Seen
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: January 8, 2018
Read Shorty Rogers: Short Stops Reassessing
Shorty Rogers: Short Stops
by Richard J Salvucci
Published: May 22, 2017
Read Oscar Peterson & Stephane Grappelli: Skol Reassessing
Oscar Peterson & Stephane Grappelli: Skol
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: October 10, 2013
Read Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy’s Big 4 Reassessing
Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy’s Big 4
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: September 26, 2013
Read Art Tatum: Solo Masterpieces, Volume One Reassessing
Art Tatum: Solo Masterpieces, Volume One
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: September 24, 2013
Read "Full House" Reassessing Full House
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: January 12, 2018
Read "Of Things Not Seen" Reassessing Of Things Not Seen
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: January 8, 2018
Read "Two on Umlaut Records with bassist Sébastien Beliah" Multiple Reviews Two on Umlaut Records with bassist Sébastien Beliah
by John Eyles
Published: August 28, 2018
Read "The Quartet Live at BIMHUIS Amsterdam" Radio The Quartet Live at BIMHUIS Amsterdam
by BIMHUIS
Published: November 19, 2018
Read "Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC Winter Jazzfest" Live Reviews Lean On Me: José James Celebrates Bill Withers @ NYC...
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: January 15, 2018
Read "Ron Korb: Pan-Global Flutist" Interviews Ron Korb: Pan-Global Flutist
by Rob Caldwell
Published: June 27, 2018