Various Artists - Johnny Boy Would Love This...A Tribute To John Martyn

a far sight better than it has any right to be

Of course, the first thing that this tribute album does is make you wish the big man were still around but that’s to be expected. There’s nobody who can drawl like John Martyn could and when you first give this album a spin it’s far too easy to scoff and say “Well that’s just pointless, if not sacrilege,” and you’d be right, up to a point. There can never be another John Martyn and most everyone on this album would probably tell you the same but once you put your presumptions and listen, actually listen to this album then I think you’ll find yourselves pleasantly surprised. You may even, dare I say it, find yourself feeling quite touched at just how well this has turned out.  Let’s face it, it could have been terrible and when you hear what the Emperors Of Wyoming have done with Bless The Weather then you may well run for the hills. I mean, Bless the Weather as the kind of power ballad? It sounds ridiculous on paper but it’s a tribute to them that it isn’t, although it may take you a couple of attempts to pull yourself round to it.

If we’re being totally frank, and we usually are around these parts, I could live without David Gray’s attempt at Let the Good Times Come if only because of what sounds like a strangled tin whistle scratching around in the middle of it. Paolo Nutini sings One World like he’s drowning under water for the first minute and half which makes me lose interest in the rest of the song, no matter how groovy it tries to get and Vetiver tried to rise to the challenge of Go Easy and fell miserably short. No matter how well intentioned, playing a version so similar to the original was always going to bring you on a hiding to nothing.  The Swell Season do better with I Don’t Want To Know, but that’s only because they bring the whole band into play. It’s a very affectionate tribute that refuses to move away from the blueprint of the original but at least it’s played with a bit of gusto.

The tracks that really work though are the ones that drag the songs into completely different directions, Clarence Fountain & Sam Butler’s soulful take on Glorious Fool is delightful, as is Sonia Dada’s take on Dancing and I love Ted Barnes’ (Featuring Gavin Clark) version of Over The Hill, if only because I’m a sucker for a banjo. Robert Smith somehow turns Small Hours into a Cure song without offending anyone and for that alone he should be commended. It’s a stunning cover primarily because it doesn’t feel like one.

Elsewhere, Beck does a lovely Stormbringer, Oh My God turn John Wayne into something entirely unexpected (although not entirely warranted) and Beth Orton succeeds with Go Down Easy where many others may have failed. That’s simply because she approaches it in her own way, playing to her strengths as opposed to simply copying Martyn and that’s the case for the majority of the album. I have no idea what Phil Collins’ version of Tearing and Breaking sounds like but that’s just because I refuse to listen to it, although I can tell you that I wouldn’t wish Snow patrol’s version of May You Never on anybody. Jesus it’s depressing and I hope to never, EVER hear it again.

Despite that, this album is still a far sight better than it has any right to be and for that, and the music of John Martyn himself, we should be thankful.