Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Eddie Martin - The Birdcage Sessions

So what does Britain’s Eddie Martin have in store for us this time around?
Well, let’s start by saying that The Birdcage Sessions is a primarily acoustic affair, leaning heavily on Martin’s guitar work and rich voice, with some minimalist additional instrumentation from Martin himself, plus a few cello contributions from his son Xavi.
Stylistically much of it draws on country blues.  But there’s a British folk element to Martin’s playing too, in which respect the guy clearly knows his Richard Jansch from his Bert Thompson – geezers who of course had their own take on Delta blues.
Eddie Martin let out of his cage
So the opener ‘Before We Wake Up’ majors on restrained, slinky acoustic picking with hints of slide, complemented by spells of droning cello and flickers of moaning electric guitar.  Add in some sporadic percussion, and the end result is a darkly cinematic blues vibe for a commentary on modern day greed and poverty.  And the following ‘Home’ is a simple, hypnotic blues, embellished by shivers of harp, subtle washes of organ, and some feminine-sounding backing vocals that Martin apparently managed to contrive himself.
Elsewhere though, ‘Skylight’ combines rippling guitar and nicely judged cello accents in a manner that vaguely brings to mind Richard Thompson and John Martyn.  It’s a meditation framed by the skylight in Martin’s home studio, an imaginative contemplation of the world beyond that window, and the world within - or “space . . . both inner and outer”, as Bill Hicks might have put it.  Closing track ‘Country Walk’, meanwhile, has a Bert Jansch feel, with acoustic playing, slide included, that feels like swimming through choppy water.
And speaking of water, ‘River Song’ flows musically like a current passing through both pools and eddies, with kick drum and harp added to the mix.  The river is a common enough metaphor, and one that Martin was also fond of on his previous album Thirst, but he handles it with style - as he does with the lyrics throughout - and delivers it expressively too.
Because the thing is, the songs on The Birdcage Sessions may be rooted in old-fashioned blues, but they’re not stuck in some time warp, with Martin imitating some dirt-poor dude scratching a living in the Mississippi Delta, with hellhounds and mean-hearted women on his tail.  Nope, Martin writes songs that reflect the world around him.
So if ‘Birdcage Blues’ is a fairly straightforward country blues, at first percussive and then less so, lyrically it’s a call for liberty dedicated to Black Lives Matter.  Meanwhile Martin brings some gritty electric guitar to the fore for ‘I Long For A Sail’, augmented by a metronomic bass note, moaning harp, foot percussion and handclaps as he muses on the appeal of sailing in the midst of lockdown.  And minimalist cello lays down an uneasy background for Martin’s slow and steely picking on the tale of relationship pain in the modern world that is ‘Falling’.
Special mention too to ‘Lazy Sunday’, a reverie about doing not a lot that has lap steel to the fore, twanging lazily to create a dreamy vibe that puts me in mind of Geraint Watkins.  And on a free and easy front, there’s fun to be had on the likes of ‘Kitchen Boogie’ and ‘Too Much Choice Blues’.
On the surface The Birdcage Sessions may seem a simple affair – just some old bald fella with a guitar and a harmonica doing ye olde worlde blues, right?  But there’s a depth and a subtlety to it that’s worth exploring, if you have the patience.  As ‘Lazy Sunday’ puts it, why not “lay right here and watch the sun creep across the floor”, let Eddie Martin’s songs wash over you, and see what you think?
The Birdcage Sessions was released on 9 July, and is available here.

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