Martin Harley, Roll With the Punches, Del Mundo
“No doubt that he is a slide guitar master. He is the business” – Roots Magazine
Martin Harley is an outstanding singer-songwriter and top-notch slide guitarist. With seven albums – now eight – to his credit, he delights audiences wherever he plays in the UK and US with his hugely enjoyable brand Americana and blues. As well as solo shows and with his band, he has recorded and performed on the same stage as artists like Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Beth Hart, and Gavin DeGraw. Total Guitar Magazine ranked Martin #16 in the World’s greatest acoustic guitarist poll and he was nominated as Instrumentalist of the Year at the Americana music awards 2019. In short, he’s an artist you really ought to get to know, if you’re not already familiar with his work.
Roll With the Punches finds Harley with a new, more electric sound, now coaxing those trademark slide guitar licks from an electric guitar rather than simply the Weissenborn lap steel he is usually to be seen with. Happily, though, he hasn’t lost any of the charm of the Martin Harley sound in this terrific album, which was recorded in analogue in a chapel in remote countryside in England. Add the outstanding Harry Harding on drums, Rex Horan on bass and Hammond maestro Jonny Henderson to the mix, and you have one mighty fine album.
The album kicks off with the very cool and super-positive Roll with the Punches, some nifty slide guitar easing us into things. When the road gets rough and you feel you’ve had enough, “don’t let nobody drag you down, keep your head high, put your good foot on the ground” – and, I love this line – “keep sunshine in your pocket everywhere that you go.”
The lovely Marguerite, with its sweet slide guitar and soaring harmonies, follows, showing Harley’s melody-creating skill. Then comes Hotel Lonely, a rocking minor key electric blues, before the sparser, gospel themed, gospel feel of Brother, which treats us to some lovely Hammond organ and tasteful slide licks. “If the load gets heavy and hard to stand / I’ll be there to lend a hand / Brother you can call on me.” Preach it, bro.
If Tears Were Pennies gets the full electric band treatment, driven by Harley’s nifty guitar licks, while I’d Rather be Lucky Than Rich is a delightfully, upbeat song, where Harley wants to “keep a blue bird singing in every tree”
Clarbeston Renovation is an instrumental piece which draws you in from the outset with some delicately sparse slide guitar. Sometimes these instrumentals are just fillers on an album – here it’s an opportunity to appreciate the exquisite slide technique of Harley. Then comes Shanghai, a short jaunty number, which morphs into a cool piano solo and then Putting Down Roots, which sees Harley taking up his acoustic guitar and defying you not to start dancing, or at least tapping your toes.
The Time is Now is another one with a joyous gospel feel, all hand claps, harmonies and riotous, speedy guitar work. Hatred and greed are juxtaposed against love and “life is for the living, the time is now.”
Rolls With the Punches is one of the best albums we’ve heard all year. It’s upbeat, it’s positive, the musicianship is superb, the songs and their arrangements are terrific. It’s everything a bluesy Americana album ought to be. It’s a little piece of “sunshine to keep in your pocket everywhere you go.”