Les Cousins 2014
Lost lady of the British folk returns to her roots to connect to the future.
If this album’s title means rebirth at a slow pace, that’s certainly the case when we talk Beverley Martyn. Always in the shadow of her talented but abusive husband John, her solo output is much scarcer, although the singer’s career started in 1966 when Beverley’s debut ’45, “Happy New Year,” which featured Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, was chosen to launch Deram Records. Yet, progressive as the artiste still is, after two 1970’s LPs credited to both Martyns and contributions to her spouse’s records, she walked away from music, and the marriage, in 1980 and devoted herself to their children. Low-profile for years, Beverley’s comeback with 1998’s “No Frills” went largely unnoticed yet the same fate shouldn’t befall its follow-up – simply because it’s starkly grandiose.
“The Phoenix And The Turtle” might feel like a stock-taking effort if not for proud defiance oozing out of the closer “Jesse James” and opener “Reckless Jane” that harkens back to 1974. Drenched in strings, this gloomy ballad, a fruit of Martyn’s creative friendship with Nick Drake, is full of inner light wherein the weight of one’s past becomes a life’s anchor. Beverley bares her own way to blue in the country-tinged “Potter’s Blues” and in her first-ever composition, the innocent “Sweet Joy” which has been dusted off recently to be given an air of experience. But the real depth of her gravely intimate delivery can be measured with “Nighttime” turning a cello-colored desperation underscored by a raw drum sound courtesy of former LOS LOBOS Victor Bisetti and sharp electric riffage into hope, and a piece made famous by her debut single’s accompanists, “Levee Breaks,” a Memphis Minnie number Martyn used to sing with her first band, THE LEVEE BREAKERS.
They also did “Going To Germany” that re-emerges here, the veteran’s dry voice oiled with organ, in an infectiously playful mode unlike “Women & Malt Whiskey” which addresses a male’s weaknesses, while the female strengths are the focus of “Mountain Top” which is as lyrical as it is earthly. And that’s the very heart of Beverley Martyn’s oeuvre: slowly but surely she gets up there where she belongs. The phoenix’s risen to glory!