Martyn Joseph – Evolved

Album Review | Pipe Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5

Twenty-five years and thirty albums along from his debut in 1983, Martyn Joseph has trod a consistent path, producing some of the most uncompromising and often hard hitting songs from the Welsh valleys.  The Springsteen comparisons will always be there, but this matters little with such a prolific outpouring of consistently high quality material.  It’s a rare thing to appeal to both newcomers and fans alike with the release of a career retrospective; with fifteen revisited songs of universal quality, Martyn Joseph has managed to present a snapshot of what he’s all about, to those just discovering his songs and at the same time, making the performances so good as to please his established fans, who no doubt have all these songs knocking about somewhere already.  “Proud Valley Boy” sets a precedent, a yardstick for the others to match up to, and fortunately, they so often do.  We hear deeply felt narratives on social injustice and our continuing inhumanity towards each other as well as ballads of love and loss, and the occasional look at other alien cultures, such as “Arizona Dreams”, a rare peek westward and with a keen eye on where the American Dream may have wandered off to this time.  Historic localised events are brought to mind in songs such as “Dic Penderyn” a song about the ill-fated martyr Richard Lewis, an innocent man who was sent to the gallows purely as an example, and “Sing To My Soul”, which addresses the infamous Abefan disaster, ever present in the hearts and souls of the Welsh to this very day, but also to anyone who remembers that fateful October morning in 1966, the year for which the English generally prefer to remember another historic event.  As a contemporary schoolboy, my memories of the former incident are still vivid and this song serves as a timely reminder.  Almost every song on Evolved is presented in its stripped down acoustic form, with curiously, just the one electric guitar foray ala Billy Bragg in “Strange Way”, yet each song hangs onto its individual power and loses none of its intensity.  After all, one assumes this is precisely how they sounded when they were first written; raw and intense.  With a predominant trademark growl at the world, Joseph also has a tenderness to which he occasionally turns and with startling effect.  “Turn Me Tender” and in particular “Can’t Breathe” are as soulful as they could possibly get and I really can’t imagine even Al Green doing a better job with them.