The Best of The Island Years

Solid Fare

If you were too strapped or scared to commit to last year’s Brobdingnagian 18-disc Island Years box set, this comparatively svelte four-disc iteration creams off the most noteworthy alternate takes, epochal live performances and rarities featured on its corpulent parent. Hell, it even lobs in the previously unreleased Hi-Heel Sneakers, Love In Your Life and Lifeline.

If there’s one thing these versions render explicit, it’s that Martyn was a folk devil with a jazzer’s soul, and a krautrocker’s Echoplex. An innate improviser, he seldom approached anything the same way twice. A scat-sung Solid Air emphasises the, ahem, saxiness of his Pharoah Sanders derived phrasing, while a delirious 19-minute Outside In, from Live At Leeds, and an utterly transported Small Hours, set themselves adrift on memory bliss in a reverie of lapping alpha waves. Both are rare instances of Martyn using echo as cosmic balm: he rarely gets sufficient credit for the snappy percussiveness of his picking technique, nor indeed his characteristic method of playing across the echo to create a heavily planted yet swinging syncopation (Big Muff, I’d Rather Be The Devil).

Stir four discs’ worth of dauntless candour, bereft romanticism and roughneck conviviality into the mix, and the cumulative effect is to double-underline the title of Couldn’t Love You More.

Oregano Rathbone
Record Collector
1 December 2014