Life, talk to me about life.
Four decades into his career Martyn Joseph delivers his 23rd album, and it finds the Welsh singer-songwriter in a reflective mood, taking an assessment of the changes in his life over the last sixty years. Which means that the finger-picked guitar accompanies a range of feelings from a not unhappy but slightly tinged with regrets acceptance of the changes in family life as one ages to the rather harder emotions that come with a parent who is being lost to Alzheimers. ‘1960‘ is then an album that has certainly matured, and although there’s love a-plenty it’s not just the simple singular form that comes with youth and lust. Equally strong – and with the potential to be even more painful – are those forms of familial love that Martyn Joseph touches on across the album. It’s also an album that doesn’t shy away from the potentially uncomfortable fact that, as he says, having turned sixty “The road ahead is shorter than the one behind, I found myself asking what I’ve made of this life – and what I might have done differently.” And if this is starting to sound depressing, well that’s not really the case either, it’s just that the songs capture some of the many ways that a life can unfold and recognises that if you live long enough then you’ll experience much and, in the end you won’t still be young. That’s life’s price, after all.
It’s a manifesto that gets pitched from the opener ‘Under Every Smile‘ where Martyn Joseph lies the cards out for the album singing of “how we carry hidden stories” and are a blend of the “light in our darkness the joy in our sad.” It’s one of several songs on the album that has something of the Crosby Stills & Nash about it – and they get a name check on ‘Born too late‘ which regrets that being just a little out of step in time with one’s musical heroes, just a few years difference and Joseph could have been swapping songs with Joni. That last gets another nod with the Laurel Canyon-ish ‘We Are Made Of Stars‘, a dreamy folk song of connection to everything in existence made even more dreamy by the additional vocals of Antje Duvekot.
‘Shadow Boxing‘ is all piano and organ, and recounts a son and his father’s relationship – boxing as a youth, playful shadow boxing into old age a remaining connection as his father becomes just a shadow of himself “he’d kiss me if he knew me but his mind resides elsewhere“. It’s a painful song, because it’s about a painful subject, but for Joseph the key thing is “that the bottom line is love…you taught me that.” Not all loses are so painful though, ‘House‘ (which features vocals and piano courtesy of Janis Ian) muses on a different loss, when a house full of life “will quieten soon” as children grow and leave to make their own lives – leaving behind memories and a sense of contentment.
‘1960‘ is all about reflection and recall, it’s a lot about family and it’s a taking stock of sorts. And it’s a musical note to take these things seriously, memories are great, now is fine and the future is uncertain – it always was it just becomes more apparent as the years pile on. And it does all that without being mawkish, for which it should be applauded. And heard.
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