This is a review of "So Far" recorded by Martin Plock. The review was written by Jimmy Horrigan in 2012.
After reviewing his recent EP, the split-release with Steph Stephenson and The Matt Burnside Band, I was keen to try more of Martin Plock's music. The two songs featured on the EP served as a tasty appetiser and so I moved onto the album "So Far". Released in 2011 but regrettably missed by the LMS writers, I hope this piece will make amends and help the music find even more loving homes than it already has. And so, while Martin busies himself with new material for the follow-up album due out early next year, let me bring you up to speed with his work so far.
In a bit of quick-fire Q & A and a general natter with Martin via Twitter recently (I'll avoid creating one of my usual portmanteaus here as I've realised what that would be) we banded a few heroes' names back and forth. I wanted to know who had influenced and nurtured his musical socialisation, and how their work impacted on his own creative process and sound. As our Twitter natter progressed, Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young, Johnny Cash and Nick Cave were mentioned and it became clear our music collections share more than a few items in common: I was starting to like this chap more and more now. A fine bromance?
By his own admission, Martin arrived at his musical styling only recently and considers himself something of a "late-bloomer". To me, the benefit of this is an innate maturity to the songs which speak of an established artist - nay troubadour - at work. This maturity comes through in the music of course but it's in the lyrics where you'll hear it most. The songs are stories; character play; things to enjoy beyond the notes; journeys to go on; lives to listen-in on; confessions to hear. They are the finer details in the picture beyond the colours of the paint and the length of the brush strokes. In the aforementioned twatter - there, I've said it - Martin puts it better and more succinctly than me with humble attestation; "I really like making an effort to tell a good story with well-chosen words".
Sixteen tracks may sound like a lot to get through but there's not a second that sounds excessive or doesn't fit - the album running as it does for fifty minutes in total. Perfick. Each tale you'll hear is just the right length before Martin moves onto the next. Love is a major theme whether it's lost, buried, worn-out, destructive or simply lacking. You'd be forgiven for thinking this all sounds a bit cup-is-half-empty but such is the wisdom and wit that each song goes beyond a simple lament. Musically there are breezy songs that pull you along like "Problem Child" and "Acorn", songs that just let you relax into them as with "Love wounds love cures" and "Growing Pains", and the more traditional roots sounds of "6ft Down", "Workhouse Blues" and "Happy Song".
Martin asks a question, "What kind of love is yours?" on "Love wounds love cures", which sets off along a dusty road and into the world so brilliantly imagined by the Coen Brothers - you know - the one inhabited by the Soggy Bottom Boys, tempting Sirens and a double-crossing Cyclops? The banjo here adds a romanticised authenticity to the song and creates the vibe of the album and although the lyrics are bursting with originality, the familiarity that the overall sound achieved on songs like the opener here makes the music instantly accessible. In a similar way "Workhouse Blues" pays humble respect to the standards but adds a nuance of modernity to bring the music up to date for the audience.
On the influence of Nick Cave to the album; it's undeniably present and wholly acceptable from where I'm standing. Not many artists attempt to pay homage to the man himself and pull it off which Martin does with aplomb on "Hand of Fate". The vocals must have been great fun to record and Martin admits it was his attempt at "Dig Lazarus Dig", a vocal sound which I could also hear later on "Blue Season". However it's on other tracks I can hear more subtle and refined Bad Seeds influences at play. "Henry's Dream" is not everyone's first choice album by the Antipodean masters of all things dark but it was the most important album I discovered for myself as a teenager; it struck a chord and has stuck with me ever since. "Answers Above" and "Lucky Streak" is where I can hear strands of those songs in Martin's work and it's a great achievement to capture that same poetic measure against that just-enough melody to portray the change of emotions.
So to some of the brilliant words on the album then. There are so many to choose from to be honest which makes it fun to pick the ones that really stood out for me. You'll no doubt find some that speak louder to you but, think hard, when did you last hear a singer belting out the likes of "anger wins out and I scream like a petulant child", "I can't swallow a lie once I've tasted the truth" and "the smile of a clown but it's cracked under my paint"? I rest my case. This is brilliant writing and the more I hear the songs the more great lines and phrases I'm finding.
It'd be easy to see these songs as a diary left unattended and an opening into the artists' heart but I'd like to think Martin is a happier chap really and that these songs are character play all the way. Whether or not they're based on his personal experience doesn't detract any from the sheer beauty presented though. "Passion Sleeps", "Love Fades" and "Outlines" are out-and-out love songs and seem to come from a different side of Martin's lyrical sensibility, though no less impressive than the blues-inspired numbers; these songs just gripped me in a different way somehow. "Passion Sleeps" in particular, one of the highlights for me, has such density and sincerity conveyed throughout it and the line "I am everything I never wanted to be. I'm a coward, a liar and I am weak", in the context of the accompanying guitar, shows just how accomplished Martin's writing is. In fact that line seems like a fitting point to round off this little bit of writing about some truly brilliant writing. So there you have it - the story so far. You can buy the album online for five English pounds via this link http://martinplock.bandcamp.com/album/so-far and you probably should!