Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Dom Martin - A Savage Life

Not many albums cross my path these days that leave me seriously wanting more.  Even really good ones can stray into filler, or repetition.  Still fewer releases are so out-of-the-box fresh and distinctive that they actually take me by surprise.  Dom Martin’s A Savage Life lands squarely in both these categories.  Coming in at just 34 minutes, the only real problem with this album is that there should be more of it.  More significantly, what Dom Martin has served up ain’t no run-of-the-mill blues-rock fodder.  No siree, this stuff has the word “special” stamped on it in Martin’s patented shade of blues ink.
That Martin is at ease with a geetar in his mitts is evident right from the git-go, with ‘Unsatisfied’,
Dom Martin - out there, on his own
Pic by Tony Cole
on which he peels off some barbed-wire coils of guitar notes in relaxed, measured fashion, over halting bass from Dave Thompson, then slips into a flickering solo.  The result is something of a spaced-out, Trower-esque tone and vibe, but combined with a growled vocal worthy of the title, until he sings “You make it look so easy, you just stop” - and does just that.  Boom - he hits the brakes after less than three minutes, just as broader pastures await.  What’re you playing at Dom?  I was enjoying that!
But ‘Unsatisfied’ is really just Martin getting warmed up with something at least adjacent to the mainstream.  Where he really scores is when he gets off the beaten track, most notably with some acoustic guitar excursions.  Get your ears round ‘Echoes’ for example, where he reels off some deliciously iridescent folky acoustic playing, rippling along beautifully till he conjures up a teasing, suspenseful closing passage.  Even more pleasingly, this is the accompaniment for a largely hushed vocal that – and this is not a one-off – evokes the dreamy spirit of John Martyn.  There’s more of this sensibility invested in ‘Addict’ too, with a revolving acoustic guitar refrain and another husky vocal, and if the melody isn’t a complete standout then Martin’s delivery of the lyric, about a drug-addled girl, still shows more feeling in a couple of lines than you’d get from a million streams of Ed Sheeran’s ‘A-Team’.
But it’s not just when he sits down with an acoustic that Martin can do more with less.  ‘Here Comes The River’ seems to involve nothing but two electric guitars, one strumming and plucking gentle chords, the other rolling out bluesy licks to create the ideal, hypnotic backing for his smoky singing.  Meanwhile the simple blues chord sequences of ‘Blues On The Bay’ are elevated by his delicate lead playing, his ability to pull out charmingly unexpected chords and flurries of notes, and Jimmy Dewar-like dreamy vocals.  But oh man – again he opts to hit the ‘Stop’ button when there seems to be so much more to say!
‘The Man From Nowhere’ is a twirling guitar rag with an unnecessary needle-crackling background effect, and if I say it isn’t really my cup of cognac that’s no criticism of the confident execution.  But ‘Drink In Blues Colours’ is more seductive and then some, with its drowsy, ‘Rain Song’-like chords to open, a fine blues solo after the verse-chorus, and another magnetic vocal.  The simplicity is breath-taking, and enhanced by a second solo, that’s fluid then prickly, over Thompson’s sympathetically rolling bass and easy-as-it-goes drums from Laurence McKeown.
There are a couple of more upbeat outings in ’12 Gauge’ and ‘Maxwell Shuffle’.  The former bristles with a properly gutsy, slide-slipping blues-rock riff and ducking and diving bass, to go with a rasping vocal, and there’s a splintering solo that ends all to soon when a proper wig-out was beckoning.  Then ‘Maxwell Shuffle’ is a rhythm-meets-lead blues instrumental with an air of SRV about it, squeezing several segments into its short lifespan before charging to a conclusion.
It's back to more subdued territory for the closing track though.  ‘The Parting Glass’ is an arrangement of an elegiac Celtic folk song, heralded by a ghostly guitar intro.  Martin’s Northern Irish voice does full justice to the spirit of the song, delivering it with real feeling and subtlety.
I’ll say it again.  This is an album that’s sui generis – which is a fancy way of saying “one of a kind”.  Sure, I wish Dom Martin had let loose a bit more here and there, because sometimes you can have too little of a good thing.  And let’s be clear, A Savage Life is a really, really good thing.
A Savage Life
 is released on 8 April, and can be ordered here.

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