Martyn Joseph has had a great deal to say over the years and said it very eloquently. This Is What I Want To Say is, extraordinarily, his twenty-seventh studio album over a forty year career. If you’re familiar with Martyn’s work you’ll know that his writing embraces a large number of subjects and styles all suffused by a social conscience rooted in his faith. Martyn isn’t a preacher, though, which makes his albums so rewarding. This album sounds the way it looks: direct, dark and rather introspective.
The opening track, ‘Folding’, includes the word “hiraeth” which, as even non-Welsh speakers know, doesn’t translate directly into English. It’s a sense of belonging, of comfort, of nostalgia and that idea is at the heart of these songs. ‘Folding’ is a metaphor for a life that has lost its impetus, its direction. “I am folding like a kite that’s lost the wind” he sings but it doesn’t feel autobiographical even through the upheaval of the last few years. I reckon Martyn always knows where he is and where he’s going and there is hope here. His warm, brown voice is set over acoustic guitar and Liz Hanks’ cello and eases us into the album.
‘Pacific Northwest’ is a song of place, one that Martyn loves and provides him with the hiraeth that we all seek. ‘Albert’s Place’ was released as part of another project early last year and is for people who have no other place of their own. It’s about a community soup kitchen in Sunderland and the woman who runs it and in a way it holds up a mirror to ‘Streets Of London’ but some things haven’t changed much in fifty years. Martyn brings pump organ and piano to ‘Grateful’ as he enumerates his blessings (including Dylan Thomas) which are many in his philosophy.
He puts on his angry face for ‘I’d Take You Out’ using just acoustic guitar and bass and admits that he would sacrifice his soul to settle an unspecified score (although it was written in response to the invasion of Ukraine) – it reminds me of ‘Masters Of War’ in that respect. The opening lines of ‘Waiting For The Rain’ made me stop and check what I’d just heard, “May the Syrian soil beneath your fingers/Fuse with the Welsh earth”. He puts his guitar aside to use just piano and organ alongside Liz Hanks’ cello in a loving travelogue as he introduces a refugee to the beauty of the Welsh countryside. Possibly my favourite song on the album.
‘Take Me To Love’ reiterates the sentiments of ‘Grateful’ and ‘Don’t Need No Cathedral’ returns to the riches of the natural world in a song of praise. With Andrew Coughlan on bass, ‘It’s A Fine Thing’ combines the ideas of ‘May You Never’ and ‘Forever Young’ with Martyn’s own positivity and optimism while adding a twist to the final chorus. He adds Dobro to the love song, ‘You’re Still Here’, dedicated to, I presume, his wife Justine, who accompanies him on piano on the closing vignette, ‘Without You’.
I will confess that This Is What I Want To Say brought tears to my eyes several times but I suspect that Martyn could bring about the same emotional response singing the Cardiff telephone directory. However, these simple, direct songs with their heartfelt lyrics transcend mere words. I know it’s early days but this is my album of the year so far.
Artist’s website: https://www.martynjoseph.net/
‘I’d Take You Out’ – live at Cropredy:
We all give our spare time to run folking.com. Our aim has always been to keep folking a free service for our visitors, artists, PR agencies and tour promoters. If you wish help out and donate something (running costs currently funded by Paul Miles), please click the PayPal link below to send us a small one off payment or a monthly contribution.