martyn joseph Songs for the Coming Home. A melancholy and strangely different Martyn Joseph gets deep and personal again, bringing out some more key songs in a contender for his best set yet.

Label: Pipe Records
Time: 10 Tracks / 44 minutes

When I bumped into Joseph this summer and asked about the album that was about to come out, he warned me, “It’s a sad one.”

Sure enough, it begins with a song about suicide, tells of an attempted suicide towards the end, and features titles like “Falling from Grace” and “Not a Good Time for God.”

There is a linear progression to this one through his last release, Under Lemonade Skies, which was warmed by more instrumentation than he had been using for some time, and which featured more personal songs.

The key track on Songs for the Coming Home, “Clara” (enhanced by some beautiful lap-steel) is about a near-suicide stopped just in time. This track has a sketchy melody – it feels more like running prose story-telling – but this account of the life of theologian Morton Kelsey is the collection’s emotional centre.

Born with hearing impediment, Kelsey suffered because his mother rejected him from a very young age and brought in a young black girl, Clara, to look after him instead. With such little love from his parents, his life spiraled downwards until he lay down in the grass, about to end it all, when a melody came to him that made him change his mind. It was not until he was an old man and an established writer that something happened that made sense of his story (no spoilers here).

There has to be a loss of home before you can return and the hope kindled in many of these pieces is what draws them together, which is why Joseph has reprised the earlier title track “Whoever It Is That Brought Me Here Will Have to Take Me Home." When it was originally released, he said that it expressed “longing for peace in this place where the air rustles with anxiety” and writer Stewart Henderson commented, “I think there’s an element of despair about it, hope, lostness, but also a desire to fall into the arms of God.” So it has that same mix of misty sadness and glimmering light that characterises the album.

Sadly, there is a lot of observational truth in another Henderson lyric, “Not a Good Time for God” (and I write this on the day that the good old C. of E. has narrowly voted against women bishops, despite a huge numerical majority wanting to go ahead).

“Now is not a good time for God
Atheists deplore him
Hedonists ignore him
Men with bombs adore him…

The right wing have defaced him
The left wing have displaced him
Bigotry’s disgraced him.”
Enhanced by some rasping harmonica, that one has a romper of a tune – as do a couple more. “Still a Lot of Love Around Here” has the sort of clinging chorus that a crowd will sing as they walk from a show (and it gets that treatment here) while “Feels Like This” is another of the more upbeat songs.

“Beyond Us” is a jibe at the banking fiasco. The review copy had no info on writers, so whether it really is old-school political Joseph or one of Henderson’s songs, I do not know.  It flows well, but some of the lyrics seemed to be a little forced and out of place somehow.

The album ends with a definite Stewart Henderson lyric turned into a memorable, meditative song about treasuring memories in the archive of the heart. The long piece, which begins with the sound of raindrops and is the one track here where Joseph plays those stand-out, resonant guitar notes, was sketched as the two were driving through a prairie plain in Alberta. Henderson handed over some words on the back of an envelope. Joseph says, “Months later in the early hours of the morning, I took them to a microphone with no musical agenda and just played and sang. The result was the first and only take that ended up on the album. It’s me with my soul howling. It’s what I like to do.”

The collection is both like Martyn Joseph and yet somehow different. The material is well crafted, but it does not forcibly draw me back for repeat plays. Joseph’s best releases have been live DVDs, where he is in his raw element, engaging with real people. This has sadness lightened by hope. With several strong songs, a warm production and a range of personal subject matter that aims for the heart, this is a definite contender for his best CD yet.


Derek Walker

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