(4 / 5)
“Know My Name”. I didn’t. But I do now. Marty is a rock and blues guitarist, singer and songwriter of considerable talents from Atlanta, Georgia. His first UK release, but his second album. It is one of those records that grows on you the more you play it, and the more you hear it, the more you hear; if you see what I mean?
He is an experienced guy, playing more than 160 shows a year, opening for the likes of Dokken, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Foghat, Richoet, Mothers Finest and the UK’s The Answer, among many others. That experience bleeds through on every track. A lot going on here, but the production values ensure that “less is more” and that everything is in its place, and there is a place for everything, in the mix.
Marty is joined by Mark Wilson on bass and Sean O’Rourke on drums (Sugarland, Derek Trucks, Mothers Finest, Aquarium Rescue Unit), who have got their end nailed on. Joe Morgan on piano and Hammond B3 organ paints some lovely brush strokes and the holes are filled in nicely by Sketch (don’t you love that name?) Ellis on percussion duties and backing vocals. Sketch co-produced with Marty.
Marty is no beginner. He gets airplay around the globe, and came in the top three of more than 450 bands for the 2015 Hard Rock Rising contest in Atlanta, and packed the venue with his own fans for the finals, playing his own songs. Was he robbed? No idea, sadly I was not there. His debut album in 2015, “Transcendence,” won widespread critical acclaim. His philosophy about his art is simple: “Music is the result of the soul trying to express feelings greater than words”. Beautifully put MM. I may “borrow” that line sometime! My equivalent of his prose is this: “Music is what emotions sound like”. I think we are saying the same thing, really. We may not recall where we were when we heard a piece of music that moved us, but we sure as hell will always remember how it made us FEEL. Right? How did “Know My Name” make me feel on first spin? Like grabbing my air guitar, throwing it to the air guitar tech’, have him tune it in record time, plug it in to the air Marshall (!) stack and blast away so the neighbours could test the warranty on their brand new double-glazed conservatory. I resisted the urge though, as at my age; my back tends to go out more than I do these days!
The record and his playing style, nods heavily to the old school rockers, but also has contemporary sensibilities, such as the Chickenfoot vibes across the album and his channelling of the great Eric Johnson on the fabulously infectious and melodic sole instrumental of the 10 strong set, “Transcending”. But Marty is definitely his own man here. There are some blistering guitar breaks, some controlled guitar work and you get the impression that he could have thrown a lot more at these tracks, but chose to tease us with little bursts of his skills, to make us hungry for more. Never is the pudding over-egged with too much guitar showboating.
Nine of the 10 are Manous-penned, apart from the cover of James Clark’s blues standard, “Look Over Yonder Wall”, which has been covered by everyone and their dog, including Johnny Winter, Elmore James and Freddie King. The song was actually called “Get Ready To Meet Your Man”, when it was written and first recorded in 1945 by its writer, James “Beale Street” Clark, or “Memphis Jimmy” as he was also known. A blues pianist from Memphis, who during the 1940s appeared on an early Muddy Waters session. The title was changed to “Look On Yonder Wall”, and over the years, has been tweaked to change the word “On” to “Over”. So now you know! A funkier, faster version here, with some tasty, choppy rhythm guitar driving it all along. Marty unleashes his blues licks and is mightily impressive on the creative solo.
The opener gives us a clue as to what is to come; mainly hard rock and fiery, skilful guitar licks. The title track kicks things off, the general feel of a cross between Sabbath and Foo Fighters. Heavy lower register power chords and a stunning lead break. Yep, this boy came to play. “Bitches” is another hard rocker, with an Eddie Van Halen vibe solo. “Don’t Let Go”, calms things down, a commercial, mid-tempo, gentler, hooky song. “My Girl” is back to steel-edged rock mode, with a contemporary feel to it. Then the superb instrumental, “Transcending”. For me, this is the best cut here, perhaps personal taste, but more so because I feel, rightly or wrongly, this is where Marty’s heart is as a player.
I bet this is the kind of stuff he listens to and noodles along to at home in his music room. He can rock his balls off, and knows the blues for sure. All played without breaking into a sweat. But this is far more controlled, and direct from the soul, for me. Lots of light and shade and away from the volume and the band blasting away behind him, this track shows me exactly what he is about and how damn good a craftsman he is. I would love to hear a full album of this style of virtuoso jazz-tinged and refined playing, with his vocals on top.
“Love In Vain” is the only cut that doesn’t work for me, and sticks out like a sore thumb. The vocal arrangement just doesn’t work. A 54 second burst of lovely resonator slide on the ‘oh so short’ instrumental interlude of “Duh-Bro” shows he can REALLY play this instrument with an innate grasp. More please. (Ahhh, maybe it is actually a Dobro he’s playing. I see what he did there!) The final two cuts, “Drown In My Tears” and the closer “The Night Is Calling” both work well.
Such effort was put into this “difficult second album”, Marty broke one of his prized vintage guitars, “Hoss”, during the recording sessions. But a re-fret and some TLC after years of loyal service, and old “Hoss” is as good as new again. Phew! (Blimey, that reminds me of my childhood and watching the Western TV series Bonanza, and the giant of a man called Hoss, one of the characters in it. You so needed to know that, didn’t you?)
One would best describe Marty’s guitar style as “virtuosic”. Fans of Vai and Satriani will really dig him. But he’s not a shredder on this record. He has a pleasing vocal – he trained with the great Jan Smith in Atlanta, a superb singer and songwriter herself, and a world class vocal coach who works with such superstars as Usher – and his vocal reminds me a little of Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
A very strong calling card for his first full release in the UK, and if he gets calls from bookers to come play at rock and blues festivals over here in the UK this summer, (which he should if they hear this record), methinks he may well be adding many, many new names to his fan-base – and no doubt be having lots of conversations after every performance, about his “gear” and his “tone”!!! I’ll be at the bar by then…
By Simon Redley
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’