LIKE a blood-red fine wine, Sarah Jane Morris (ex-Communards and The Republic) seems to get even better with age. More Chateau Latour 1959 than Beaujolais Nouveau.
Following on from the success of Bloody Rain in 2014 and Compared To What in 2016 (a joint collaboration with sublime guitarist Antonio Forcione), the 60 year-old firebrand Morris has triumphed again. This time, with Sweet Little Mystery, a delightful album dedicated to the music of Ian David McGeachy, better known as John Martyn. An album that Martyn would certainly have admired – and raised a glass or three to – had he still being alive to hear it.
From the late 1960s until his death in 2009, Martyn wrote a string of unforgettable songs – often under the influence of a heady cocktail of drugs and alcohol. Defining music that today sometimes goes under the wire, but is often heralded by his musical peers. An intoxicating mix of blues, jazz and rock.
The delight of Sweet Little Mystery is that it is not a tribute album, a glorified pastiche. This is Morris’ deeply personal take on the great man’s work – and it works a treat. It pays due homage to Martyn’s marvellous lyrics – dollops of love and romance, interspersed with bouts of paranoia and despair – while showcasing Morris’ extraordinary voice which transcends octaves. Sometimes, breathtakingly so as it plunges deeper than seems humanely possible (just listen to the ending of Solid Air and wait for the hairs on the back of your neck to bristle). Euphonious. Mellifluous. Occasionally androgynous. Marvellous musical fare.
Jointly arranged with Tony Remy (Morris’s musical ‘husband’), the album is for the most part achingly beautiful. It starts with the simplicity of Fairytale Lullaby (covered previously by Bombay Bicycle Club), moves on to the enchanting love song that is Couldn’t Love You More and then to Head And Heart (another glorious love song – ‘love me with your head and heart’). It then changes tempo with the slightly frenetic Call Me – a song about a relationship being torn apart by distance and insecurity (we’ve all been there).
There is plenty more – an upbeat and jaunty Over The Hill, the madness of Carmine, the sadness of Sweet Little Mystery, the love infested May You Never and the thrilling (sing-along) I Don’t Wanna Know (‘Bout Evil’) – a song that has long been played live by Morris.
Yet the album’s piece de resistance is Solid Air, a vocal masterpiece that sends tingles down spines, shivers through souls… and hairs on neck to stand to attention. It will suck you in like a giant vacuum cleaner and not let you go until the final chord Is played.
Of course, Sweet Little Mystery is more than Morris. Remy’s acoustic and electric guitar (magical on May You Never) purr away in the background as does Tim Cansfield’s acoustic guitar while the backing vocals of Tessa Niles and Gina Foster (especially on Couldn’t Love You More and Sweet Little Mystery) are both tender and complementary. Martyn Barker’s drums and percussion pepper Solid Air while Jason Rebello’s piano splashes all over the rather doleful One World to good effect. Henry Thomas’s bass guitar provides solidity.
Sweet Little Mystery is a precious gem. Buy it, play it, open a bottle (Beaujolais will do) and don’t be embarrassed if you go on to shed a tear or two at Martyn’s tender words and Morris’s extraordinary voice. Therapeutic, Cathartic. Vintage musical wine.