As I arrived for tonights performance at The Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey I found myself ruminating over just how long 24 hours can be, whether it be politics, possibly sport, or in this case music. Only yesterday I was in Nottingham enjoying the company of non other than Bob Dylan as he led the audience, or should that read disciples, through a selection of his back catalogue that extends over sixty years, and now tonight here at Lincolnshire’s premier Americana venue the local congregation are welcoming back a young singer songwriter who in the new year will release his debut album. Now I’m sure Mr Dylan and his contemporaries could wax lyrical about all the trials and tribulations of the early sixties as they strove to have their songs heard above the chorus of competition, and rightfully so, but one can’t help and feel that today, especially post pandemic, the challenges facing the current crop of aspiring artists, as well as some of the more established acts must at times seem almost insurmountable, with an ever-growing number of performers competing to play at an ever decreasing number of venues.
Tonight sees the return of Lancashire born Joe Martin who’s two previous visits to the venue had been as support for the likes of Matthews Southern Comfort and Callaghan, both times as a solo performer, so it was great to see him now return as a fully fledged headliner complete with a band which comprised of, C.J. Hillman on lead guitar and pedal steel, Mark Lewis on bass and Dan Wiebe on drums. With no support act on the bill the band opened the first of their two sets with ‘Doesn’t Rain In L.A’ which first appeared on last years excellent EP, ‘Bound For Lonesome’, a strong number typical of Martin’s storytelling songwriting style with the band quickly finding their groove. The extended playing time this evening allows Martin to introduce a plethora of tracks from his forthcoming debut album, ‘Empty Passenger Seat’, due out next April and the first of these is the current single, ‘High Gravity’. A song inspired whilst on a recent trip to Nashville and more specifically based on Martin’s introduction to the local drinking traditions, it’s an early indicator to where Martin’s musical passions lie, both with it’s musical history, getting to play the Bluebird Cafe an obvious highlight, as well as the recent television drama series. More tracks from the new album adorn the first set such as ‘Born To Die Young’ and ‘Fell For A Promise’, each preceded with a background story told as Martin constantly tunes and retunes his one and only guitar for the night. His patter is confident and his stories informative amusing and occasionally surreal but always there to help cement the inspiration behind each song.
The opening half of tonight’s show concludes with Martin delivering a solo version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’ which initially seems at odds with what had gone before, both musically and geographically, but which, by the end of the night, would make much more sense, before the band returned on stage to help deliver another new track, the wonderful ‘Crocodile Tears’ featuring some fabulous pedal steel playing from Hillman.
After a twenty minute interval which allows glasses to be suitably refreshed Martin is ready to return again alone for a solo performance of Paul Simons’ ‘Homeward Bound’ where his vocals get to the very essence of the song’s lonely lament. It is now that I begin to understand the conundrum that is Martin. His between song patter and undoubted passion for all things Nashville make it easy to see him as part of the new stream of country singers pouring out of music city, but listen closely to his songs, his lyrics, the way he sings. His songs inhabit a geography that encompasses a much broader palette and texture, much more inclusive to a world beyond Stetsons and rhinestones, much more personal, belonging closer to someone like Jackson Browne as well as Simon and Springsteen.
Re-united with the band Martin goes back to his 2017 EP, ‘Small World’, and a track that has already become a crowd favourite, ‘Denver’, before returning the focus to the new album with such tracks as, ‘Daddy Gene’, telling the story of the longest time spent in space, followed by ‘Money For The Needy’ and ‘Smoking and Crying’, all of which whets the appetite for next April. The title track of the new album is saved to close the set. With its interesting chord changes and its driving rhythm, ‘Empty Passenger Seat’ proves a perfect way to close the show. The demand for more from the vociferous congregation is duly obliged with a beautiful rendition of the Carol King / James Taylor classic, ‘You’ve Got A Friend’, complete with the obligatory singalong chorus and another reminder as to where Martin’s musical compass truly lies. Not a place on a map, but a place in the heart.