John Martyn's 7th album for the mighty Island Records - the lovely and ethereal "Solid Air" - was always going to be a candidate for the 2CD DELUXE EDITION treatment at some point in time - but few of us could have hoped it would turn out 'this' good. I'm blown away - I really am. But details first...
Disc 1 (34:49 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 9 are the LP "Solid Air" issued 1 February 1973 on Island ILPS 9226 in the UK and Island SW-9325 in the USA (it didn't chart in either country). It was recorded in November and December of 1972 and engineered by JOHN WOOD. The original album had a gatefold sleeve and a famously designed 'hand through air' shot on the front cover by FABIO NICOLI. The gatefold digipak recreates this artwork inside and out, has 'palm-tree' label CDs to reflect the original LP design and a 20-page booklet with passionate, informative and detailed liner notes by noted experts and friends JOHN HILLARBY and DARYL EASLEA (Hillarby did the liner notes for the 2005 John Martyn Remasters). The booklet also features trade adverts, the master tapes box, lyrics to the songs, session details - it's superbly done. But the real fireworks lie in the SOUND of the album on Disc 1 - and I'm thrilled to say - the staggering quality of the EXTRAS on Disc 2...
The 24-bit digital remaster has been done by PASCHAL BYRNE at Audio Archiving in London and he's done a STUNNING job. Every track sounds alive, warm and in your face - but in a good way. Highlights include the truly gorgeous "Over The Hill" which has Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol of Fairport Convention playing an absolute blinder on Mandolin and Autoharp (respectively) - and every time - and I mean every time - it wells up a tear in my eye. Now it suddenly sounds HUGE, Byrne's remaster having brought its beauty out - a genuine wow if ever there was one.
While others love it - I've never liked his echo-plexed version of Skip James blues tune "Devil Got My Woman" which he renamed "I'd Rather Be The Devil". But if you do like it - you're in for a treat, because it sounds absolutely enormous here - I just always felt is was kind of out of place in a largely folky setting.
There is hiss at the beginning of Side 2's lovely opener "Go Down Easy", but Byrne's smartly not tried to process it out of the transfer - the result is that Danny Thompson's double-bass sounds like he is standing in the corner of your room. Tony Cox's fantastic sax work on the funky "Dreams By The Sea" is complimented by John "Rabbit" Bundrick's fabulous keyboard work - again astonishingly clear. The final three tracks still sound years ahead of their ambient time - and the remaster is beautiful too...
After the joy of Disc 1, I'd expected Disc 2 to be a let down - it isn't.
Disc 2 (80:22 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 9 are fully formed 'alternate' takes of all 9 of the album tracks
Tracks 10 to 12 are 3 brand-new out-takes from the album sessions - "Keep On", "When It's Dark" and "In The Evening"
Track 13 is the 1st version of "May You Never" issued as 7" single in the UK on Island WIP 6116 in November 1971 - it's an entirely different version to the 'acoustic take' released on the "Solid Air" album (the song was famously covered by Eric Clapton on his "Slowhand" album of 1977). The 1971 single mix contains a full band with keyboards by John "Rabbit" Bundrick and guitar work by Paul Kossoff of Free
Tracks 14 to 16 are Live Versions of "The Easy Blues", "May You Never" and "I'd Rather Be The Devil" (no venue details are supplied)
The 'Alternate' takes are all lovely and something you'll play again rather treat as a curio. But then you're hit with a genuine sensation - 3 Session out-takes never heard before - one of which is a showstopper - the eight and a half minute acoustic bliss of "When It's Dark". I played it in the shop the other day and two Euro customers came to the counter within minutes asking after the new "Nick Drake" recording! Fans will wonder how this peach has remained in the vaults all these years.
So there you have it - a great album beautifully transferred and extra tracks that actually deserve the word 'bonus'. I've enjoyed some superb issues in the Deluxe Edition series in the last few years (Whiskeytown's "Strangers Almanac", "Tighten Up" Volumes 1 and 2 and Free's "Fire And Water" - see reviews), but this is something really special.
Buy it with confidence - and Rest in Peace Iain David McGeachy - you great big gorgeous Scottish beauty.