Martyn Joseph ‘Tires Rushing By In The Rain’ (Pipe Records)
Released 7th October 2013
“All I’ve got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth.” The immortal words sung by the irrepressible Bono back in the days of Joshua Trees when U2, prompted by their muse to explore American music culture in ‘Rattle & Hum’, took the liberty of improvising on Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ which Hendrix had in turn, made his own. Similarly armed with just an acoustic guitar (maybe even a red one) and at one point a ukelele, but with considerably more chords than three, plus the songbook of Bruce Springsteen, Martyn Joseph has delivered an record which pays homage to a major inspiration and influence on his career.
The songs of Bruce Springsteen have been a constant motivation and have provided the occasional diversion in Martyn’s own live performances over the years. He isn’t known as ‘The Welsh Springsteen’ without good reason and it’s not just that he covers the songs in as much that the songwriting approach of the two men is not a million miles apart.
‘Tires Rushing By In The Rain’ is pretty much a labour of love as both Joseph and no less than Springsteen chronicler Dave Marsh explain in the sleeve notes. (And for those as pedantic about spelling as myself, yes it is ‘tires’, as spelt by Springsteen himself; the line taken from one of his long lost masterpieces, ‘The Promise’, which finally received a release as part of the ‘Tracks’ outtakes compilation, albeit tagged onto the single disc version rather than the expansive 4cd set and which is covered on this set).
The collection isn’t simply a copycat tribute or a chance to simply reinterpret the songs as there will be the inevitable comparisons with the originals. As Joseph himself explains, “I have always found a reference point in Bruce’s material that I was able to connect with and always carry that honesty and integrity to the stage.”
Rather than take the easy option of choosing purely acoustic material as Springsteen did with ‘Nebraska’ and ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’, (from which albums only one song appears) Martyn has drawn on the full range from the Bruce collection, from 1973’s ‘Growin’ Up’ (which appropriately opens the set) right up to ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams’ from Springsteen’s most recent album, almost a dozen albums are mined. The selections include the familiar (‘The River’, ‘Badlands’) and the slightly more obscure (‘Happy’ from the ‘Tracks’ collection and the aforementioned ‘The Promise’ – a song which Springsteen seems slightly at odds with yet remains one of his fans’ most treasured performances). There’s also the challenge of including some of the more subdued and musically sparse songs (‘Cautious Man’ and ‘Factory’ for example) alongside the more raucous tub thumpers normally played with full band accompaniment which explode to life in concert – so the takes on ‘The Rising’ and ‘Badlands’ are set in more restrained arrangements not dissimilar to the occasional curveballs Springsteen throws in interpreting his own material. It’s undoubtedly harsh to be over analytical, but these are the takes which work less well than the likes of the unprecedented four ‘Tunnel Of Love’ songs – an album which may well be the one which is closest in feel and content to Joseph’s own oeuvre. The way he delivers ‘Walk Like A Man’ and ‘One Step Up’ from that record are incredibly natural and he inhabits them as much as if they were his own. it would be an interesting exercise to hear his takes on some other songs from that album which remains one of Springsteen’s more underrated works – ‘When You’re Alone’ and ‘Valentines Day’ would be perfect material for Joseph to take a stab at.
For a highlight, look no further than ‘Blood Brothers’ which comes over as is a sensitive and emotionally charged performance, as the song deserves and originally penned as tribute to Springsteen’s friendship with his E Street Band. It is actually one of the songs which is recorded pretty faithfully to the original but is clearly a song and sentiment with which Joseph feels a connection.
As Marsh has pointed out, it’s highly surprising that no-one has attempted something similar previously bearing in mind the song writing ability of Springsteen, but it seems appropriate that it should be an artist with the confidence, the standing and the integrity of Martyn Joseph. He has done something here for which many will have been waiting yet above all, he pulls no punches in allowing the song writing to shine through – it’s the songs which are the real stars.
Walk Like A Man
Land Of Hope And Dreams
The Ghost Of Tom Joad
One Step Up
If I Should Fall Behind