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Music Review: Martyn Joseph – Evolved

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There is a fire burning within Martyn Joseph, a passion and a simmering anger that has not dimmed even slightly during a career spanning over twenty years. It sits alongside a captivating ability to observe life and capture both its light and dark sides within his music.

Martyn Joseph does not just write songs. He pours his heart and soul into them whilst confronting some subjects that are all too easy for us to turn a blind eye to. His latest album Evolved (Pipe Records, October 27, 2008) sees Martyn re-visiting fifteen of these songs, injecting a freshness and added maturity into them in the process.

It is little surprise that the album is presented in such a captivating way. Designed by Canadian Juno Award-winning artist Michael Wrycraft, it has a separate flash card thoughtfully presented for every song on the album. It is quite simply an object of art.

Martyn is from Cardiff, in South Wales, and learned his craft playing the local pubs and clubs. It was a tough grounding and one he put to good use. He learned well and by the early '90s he had achieved five top 50 records. His observations on life can be poignant and heartrending, challenging or uplifting. Life can look very different after seeing him perform.

Those wanting a new Martyn Joseph album may well be initially disappointed by the fact that Evolved sees him re-visiting his best known songs. There is no need for such thoughts. Martyn has somehow breathed new life into them, whilst bringing them up to the present. By doing so he makes us realise that the issues raised are, sadly, as relevant today as when he originally wrote them.

Martyn explains, "The idea behind this album was to redress the disparity between past recordings that bore little resemblance to where those songs are today. We record songs too early, we don’t know them well enough and jump in too soon."

Evolved, then, is the perfect title for the album. Songs that are very familiar to his fans have developed over the years and taken on new depth and maturity in the process. His choice of material includes many of his most poignant songs. They range from the endearing “Kiss The World Beautiful”, and “Turn Me Tender” through the whole range of Martyn’s thoughts, emotions, and observations.

The hardships witnessed in his native Wales feature strongly. This is particularly so in “Please Sir” a song about a small boy seeing his coal mining father reduced to tears by sheer hopelessness. “Cardiff Bay” and “Proud Valley Boy” continue the theme. Perhaps even more poignant is “Sing to My Soul”, written about the tragedy of Aberfan, a disaster that destroyed the future of an entire community.

“Working Mother” explores another sort of hopelessness, this time that of a young woman trying to make ends meet who is reduced to prostitution. When he sings the line "am I worth more than this?" it touches you deeply.

“Arizona Dreams” sits side by side with the true story of hanged Welsh folk hero “Dic Penderyn,” a song that sees Martyn make the connection between another execution on a hill in Palestine. Every song, although familiar to his fans, is given an added depth.

Whilst re-visiting the songs of yesterday, this is very much the Martyn Joseph of today. Even if he and his music have Evolved over the years, sadly the world hasn’t.

Visit Martyn Joseph as his official website or on his Myspace profile.

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About Jeff Perkins