Eddie Martin – The Birdcage Sessions
Blueblood Records – 2021
14 tracks; 53 minutes
Eddie Martin is one of the UK’s best known blues artists and he ranges widely, having recorded acoustic and electric, solo, trio and big band albums. The last of Eddie’s discs that I reviewed was Thirst in 2019 and that was a full band electric effort; this time around Covid has had its effect and Eddie did everything himself, just his son Xavi adding cello to three tracks and another son Joe singing backup on one. Otherwise it’s all Eddie, but note the wide variety of instrumentation: electric and acoustic guitars, lap steel, harmonica, foot percussion, bass, piano, organ, mandolin, cello and banjitar. Eddie handles all the vocals, including some rather neat backing vocals on several tracks where he adapts his voice to add range and depth to the sound. All the material is original, apart from one traditional tune.
“Before We Wake Up” opens the album with Eddie’s slide set against cello, harmonica and acoustic guitar on a gospel-fueled tune, but it’s the lyrics that impress as Eddie rails against the injustices in society. Eddie namechecks Charley Patton and Robert Belfour as influences on the next two tracks: indeed, “Home” sounds like it was recorded in the Delta, with the repetitive drone of the guitar, over which Eddie plays harp and adds layered harmonies; “Breakeven Blues” has some delicate finger-picking and vocals that sound like Taj Mahal who was in turn channeling some far earlier blues men, Eddie describing how everyone demands a slice of what you earn. “Happy, Broke And Free” opens with birdsong before Eddie’s resonator enters and his vocals describe exactly what Covid has done to working musicians, with all gigs cancelled.
“Skylight” is a multi-layered song with lush instrumentation and lyrics that demonstrate why Eddie is also a published poet: “Quiet transcendence, just me and the distance, skylight tricks me with its portal of wonder.” Xavi’s cello adds a yearning sound to the music that matches the lyrics perfectly. Eddie breaks out the electric guitars on “I Long For A Sail” but is soon back in acoustic mode for “Birdcage Blues” in which Eddie equates the song of the blackbird to the sound of liberty and compares that with the Covid experience of being locked down, unable to play gigs, barely able to leave home. “River Song” has Eddie’s harp and guitar at the heart of a country blues stomp before the short “Falling” adds some more of Xavi’s moody cello to the mix.
“Kitchen Boogie” is an instrumental with Eddie’s harp taking the lead over bass and guitar before Eddie celebrates “Lazy Sunday” in a relaxed tune with slide overdubbed on to his acoustic guitar and piano: “I’m thinking, don’t wanna go to work no more, just want to lie back here, watch the sun creep across the floor”. A delicate guitar interpretation of “Amazing Grace” brings the album to a close but there are also two tracks classed as ‘bonus tracks’. “Too Much Choice” is a standard blues, a comic song in which Eddie finds himself bewildered by some aspects of modern life: “I’m buying bottled water, fresh from a mountain spring, it just fell out of the sky but they charge me what I pay for gin”; “Country Walk” is another instrumental, layered acoustic guitars giving a light, fresh feeling to the end of the album. Unfortunately the two bonus tracks are not in the same order as printed on the sleeve but this review covers them in the order they appear on the disc.
Eddie has produced a very listenable album here and all credit to him for recording such a sonically varied disc almost entirely on his own.