Music Review: Various Artists: Johnny Boy Would Love This *****
John Martyn's death at the age of 60 two years ago robbed the world of one of its most gifted songwriters, an unerring chronicler of life's highs and lows.
This wonderful double album, featuring 30 artists covering 30 career-spanning songs, is as good a tribute to an iconic name as you are likely to hear.
Johnny Boy Would Love This is the brainchild of Chicago producer Jim Tullio, who had helped complete the Englishman's posthumous album, Heaven and Earth. Tullio spent the best part of two years rounding up a wildly diverse group of musicians and the result is a labour of love. He also gets to step from behind the mixing desk with a raw and bruising version of Road to Ruin.
Robert Smith lends his singular style to Small Hours, while Morcheeba's Skye Edwards acquits herself well with Solid Air. But it's a pair of veteran female singers who elevate this collection way above the usual tribute job. Vashti Bunyan's take on Head and Heart is fragile and ethereal, while Judie Tzuke makes Hurt in Your Heart her own.
Ireland is well represented, incidentally, with The Swell Season, Snow Patrol and Ultan Conlon (whose 2005 song Really Gone featured Martyn) offering faithful renditions of, respectively, I Don't Want to Know, May You Never and Back to Stay. But it's Lisa Hannigan who really impresses -- her spectral rendition Couldn't Love You More is possibly her finest studio performance to date.
Granted, there are a handful of tracks you may want to skip past -- David Gray and Paolo Nutini don't really add anything to Let the Good Things Come and One World -- but for the most part this is a brilliantly realised endeavour that illustrates just how special a song-smith Martyn was.
The final package (not available to reviewers in advance) will also include a 40-page booklet, a DVD featuring interviews with some of the artists involved and rare John Martyn performances.
Burn it: Hurt in Your Heart; Head and Heart; Couldn't Love You More
Day & Night