12 songs – 72 minutes
Eddie Martin seems to have been around forever without ever quite graduating to A-List status. With 14 albums behind him, and a glowing reputation as a singer, songwriter, acoustic and electric guitarist and harmonica player, it’s difficult to know what more Martin can do. Well, after the release of his “Best Of” compilation, Blues Took Me By The Hand, in 2014, Martin has now followed up with Live In Tuscany, a recording of the first gig of his new band, Big Red Radio. And it’s a little cracker of an album, also available as a DVD (not reviewed here).
From the solo voice (backed by a gospel choir) that kicks off the opening track,“Blues Took Me By The Hand”, to the wild, driving harmonica of the closing instrumental “Steam Train”, this album has something for everyone. Featuring 11 songs written by Martin, together with Alberto Gurrisi’s short, dreamy keyboard piece, “Intermezzo”, there are nods to the likes of Fred McDowell (on the start of “Throw Me A Line”) and Charlie Patton (“Five Things”) as well as hints of early Dire Straits (on the verses of “Something About You Baby”) and even (at least to this reviewer’s ear) Uriah Heep (“Watching The Weather”). Olalekan Babalola’s superb percussion adds some African sunshine to a number of tracks, including “Flowers In The Desert”.
As you might expect from a man who took the name Red Radio from a street theatre group in pre-war Germany, Martin’s songs are insightful, intelligent and thought-provoking, dealing with topics based around social justice, including refugees, inequality and anti-racism (although love, loss and lust are all well-represented as well). He and his band are also masters of the art of dynamics, slowly building up songs such as “Throw Me A Line” by gradually adding one instrument after another, before bringing them precipitously down to a whisper and back up again.
Big Red Radio is an Anglo-Italian project, with Martin himself on guitars, harp and vocals, backed by bassist Marco Bachi, singer Michela Lombardi, Luca Giovacchini on guitar, banjo and mandolin, Matteo Sodini on drums, the aforementioned Gurrisi on keys and Babalola on percussion, and the Jubilation Gospel Choir on vocals. Italian blues musicians have been creating some big waves recently through the likes of Matteo Sansonetto (whose My Life Began To Change was warmly reviewed in BluesBlast Magazine, issue 26 May 2016), Emanuele “Manny” Fizzotti and Paolo Mizzau. The musicians in Big Red Radio, while perhaps leaning more towards the blues-rock end of the musical spectrum, are nevertheless of a similarly high quality. The Jubilation Gospel Choir in particular adds wonderful backing vocals to tracks such as “Flowers In The Desert”. The most impressive element of the band however is in each member’s restraint and understanding of when not play. So for example when Gurrisi adds a keyboard flourish or Martin throws in a tasty National slide guitar lick, their effect is exacerbated by their unexpectedness.
Recorded on one night in Barga, Tuscany, Live In Tuscany benefits from superb production (by Martin and Bruno Bacci) that captures the magic of a live performance without any of the muddiness of so many other live recordings.
Live In Tuscany is a thoroughly enjoyable release and a timely reminder of Eddie Martin’s multi-faceted skills. If you like intelligent, well-written blues-rock with a heavy layer of old country blues, you need to check out Eddie Martin’s Big Red Radio.