Raw, passionate and engaging – all the usual adjectives still apply.
Label: Pipe Records (www.martynjoseph.com)
Time: 59 Minutes + 19 (extra songs) + 28 + 15 (interviews)
Back in 1999, Martyn Joseph recorded Far From Silent, which was packaged in a monochrome cover that reflected the stark, but mesmerising collection of songs that featured him singing as he did on stage: solo with just his guitar.
He continued that way until 2006’s Live double-DVD set, which had some keyboard backing. Surprisingly, after his recent and multi-textured Under Lemonade Skies, he has now returned to a monochrome-packaged DVD that shows him stripped back to one-man-and-his-guitar. But how well it suits him.
Joseph was fine on the generously song-stuffed Live, but his great track selection and strong performance were undone by outrageously intrusive camera cranes. This time, he is surrounded by darkness, intimately connected with his audience, and it works a treat.
There are a few old favourites in the set. He emotes through “Working Mother” with no hint that he has sung the song many hundreds of times before, and “Cardiff Bay” enchants – you can just see the crowd in the corner of the screen, silently transfixed by the way that he catches a moment between father and son.
But Joseph has no need to rely on these old classics. The new songs show how he and co-writer Stewart Henderson have kept developing. “Lonely Like America” throws images across the hall and “On My Way” is a good set-ender (it would have been a great album closer, too). It is a standout piece from Under Lemonade Skies, but played live at the end of a gig brings out another side to its lyrics.
The most surprising thing for me about this collection is the excellent guitar sound. The top strings ring and chime as if they come from a less humble-looking instrument, showing more than a passing resemblance to some of Bruce Cockburn’s phrasing and tone.
“Lately I’ve been wondering just what it is that I believe,” he sings on “Sing to my Soul” and it could sum up his approach to faith, which seems to have shrunk back a lot in his more recent lyrics. But Joseph builds a lot of thoughtful content into this set. The songs roughly boil down to personal stories and wider observations, covering things like parenthood, prostitution, culture, relationships, Elvis and Joseph’s Welsh heritage.
The simpler visual direction is fitting. There are a couple of split screen moments, which seem to appear randomly, with no particular logic, but they do no harm. Generally, it is a highly sensitive visual approach.
Extras: On top of the eleven main tracks, Joseph gives us another four as extras, including two from the soundcheck, which are no quick run-throughs. He puts as much passion and care into these as he would in front of a crowd. The others are worth inclusion, too. One bum note on “Brothers in Exile” is enough to relegate it from the main programme. The genius song “Twelve Years Old” is completely absorbing as he connects children at the point where they turn into adults across centuries and miles.
There is also a two-part interview; one from before the show and one from half-time. The first and longest is very informative. Joseph feels that he had been getting too intense in his songwriting; he talks about motivation and he tells how he is still learning the craft, even at the age of 50. The second interview could be pared right down to the useful five minutes.
I used to think that Joseph’s strengths were his authentic, empathetic and passionate songs, delivered in uncompromising manner. Now that he is mellowing a little, I have to add the joy of hearing his guitar work.