Martyn Joseph is a Welsh singer-songwriter whose own website describes him as having shades of Bruce Springsteen, John Mayer, Bruce Cockburn and Dave Matthews. He’s been around for over 20 years and while he has not shared the same success as the artists his bio compares him to, he stands as a testament to longevity having released over 30 albums on both independent and major labels.
Songs For The Coming Home is released on his own label, Pipe Records, which he set up complaining of having his artistic freedom compromised at the expense of bigger stars when he was on a major label. It might not therefore surprise that while Joseph is at heart a folk singer, he is also an activist, who has worked with organisations like Amnesty International and Warchild to combine his music with a message.
Apparently, he was very nearly a professional golfer, having excelled at the most pedestrian of sports as a youngster, only choosing music when the reality of not being able to make a career from the putting green kicked in. It shows in his music – there is an element of patience and brooding calculation in his work, which won’t excite in the same way as other singer-songwriters but is undeniably well crafted.
Joseph describes Songs For The Coming Home as songs which affirm the faith we have in returning, that whatever is happening in our worlds we can find solace at some point by coming home. Whilst this might sound fine on a press release, it’s a lofty and vague and somewhat overused concept for a record which doesn’t always tally with the songs on the album.
So on the opening track, Crossing the Line, which finds Joseph singing in husky tones a la The Boss over a somewhat ephemeral and well produced track, he pulls off the wistful, philosopher pretty well. Similarly, Fall From Grace has Jeff Buckley influenced guitars and Joseph with a melancholy air. It suits the concept of Songs For The Coming Home – that redemption can be found regardless of the circumstances.
Joseph does best when he keeps his music closest to its folk roots. Clara is a ballad about a writer who considering suicide is persuaded otherwise after thinking of a melody from his childhood and then meets the woman who sung it to him as a child. It’s a wonderfully cathartic concept: “I hope we all have a Clara/singing songs unknown/songs for the healing/and Songs For The Coming Home.”
Where Songs For The Coming Home goes wrong is when thinker Martyn is replaced by activist Martyn. Beyond Us has a more upbeat Celtic influence, spoilt by half baked protest lyrics like “On the trading floor they use Ouija boards”. Again, on Not a Good Time for God, Joseph channels the modern Bob Dylan with an acoustic shuffle of a religious ramble that is more pedestrian than polemicist.
Songs For The Coming Home has at its heart a sound concept for any singer-songwriter. That music can heal wounds and straighten out anyone on even the most unruly path. Since we worked out how to play it, musicians have crafted songs about love, loss, solace and the sanctity of home.
Many may have done it considerably better than Martyn Joseph and achieved greater success, but he brings a wealth of experience and worldliness to this album and when the focus is right, he tells a compelling story.