If you’re familiar with Martin Thomas’s work with Americana specialists Grey Wolf (or even as part of Virg Clenthills’ Comfort of the State), you already know him as a fine singer, guitarist and mandolin player. ‘Pieces’ presents a slightly different side to him, proving that he can write too.
A while ago, he was faced with surgery to one of his hands, and, realizing that he had no recordings of the songs and tunes he’d written over the years, he started to repair that omission with the help of engineer and producer Ben Walsh. Unfortunately, he was only able to record a few things at that time, as represented by the seven tracks on this CD*.
- The exile
- One for James
- A dancehall for two
- You are my sunshine
- Wait a while
- Glory of love
Two of the tracks are instrumental versions of popular songs. I know that’s a rather dated, 20th century way of putting it – I can almost feel the ghost of David Jacobs peering over my shoulder – but it may well be what ‘You are my sunshine’ and ‘Glory of love’ were called when they were written in 30s. Martin’s versions are played on acoustic guitar with a pleasing hint of ragtime.
‘One for James’ is an original instrumental, an appealing slide guitar piece with an extraordinary delicacy of touch, a combination of melodic line and graceful phrasing that surprisingly few slide players display even among the ranks of the virtuosi.
The other tracks are original songs.
‘The Exile’ is a gentle, almost wistful melody with an unexpected bite to the lyrics. ‘Stranger’ is a little pacier, with a suggestion of paranoia to the lyric and the addition of some discreet mandolin. ‘A dancehall for two’ is a country waltz, with some Dobro-ish slide, mandolin, and some lyrical twists that are more 21st century than Hank Williams. ‘Wait awhile’ also includes some overdubbed guitar, slide and mandolin, as well as double-tracked vocals, plus some atmospheric fiddle from Ben Walsh.
In case there are still folkies around who regard multi-tracking as the work of the devil, I have to say that the overdubs are done with taste and discretion. (I recall with some amusement a review of an early Joan Baez album that slated the whole LP because one track had double-tracked vocals.) While these overdubs demonstrate again how good a musician Martin really is, there is no in-your-face hey-look-how-good-I-am flash and flamboyance. They add to the songs without overwhelming them.
The CD isn’t commercially available, but if you donate a fiver or more to Mind or Shelter and contact Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org, he’ll send you a copy. I don’t think you’ll regret it. And I look forward to his keeping his promise to make some more of his songs available.
*CD cover painting by Eleanor Langwell
17th September 2014