Geordie Folk Troubadour grows older, gracefully
I first encountered Martin Stephenson in 1984 on the night of my one and only attempt at being a roadie; as the original incarnation of the Daintees were second on a bill of four local acts at the world famous Balmbora’s Music Hall in Newcastle. All four bands were on the same local record label and went on to varying levels of success with the bottom of the bill group being Prefab Sprout performing in public for the very first time.
Martin Stephenson; sometimes solo and often with a backing band of incredible quality spent the next 10 or more years visiting every University, deadbeat bar or folk club the length and breadth of the UK winning a set of fans who are still incredibly loyal today.
Like many of his contempories Martin has been self-releasing albums over the last 20 years; indeed CALIFORNIA STAR was such a release; but via Universal, Absolute Marketing have introduced major-label distribution for not only this album, but his entire back catalogue; meaning the masses can now enjoy the intelligent wordplay and shear joy of a Martin Stephenson album.
Album opener; The Ship features some mighty fine guitar playing and harmonies on a track that has echoes of Van Morrison and John Martyn; but couldn’t be any other than Wearside’s finest songsmith; Martin Stephenson Esq.
If you only own his 20 year old Greatest Hits package; you will be amazed at the depth of styles and subject matter Martin now employs; with The Streets of San Sebastian having many layers that can be peeled away until you realise it’s one of his finest ever songs.
Boy To Man opens with some of the coolest whistling I’ve ever heard; then Martin tells the story of a boy embroiled in a war and enlists as a Partisan; but the chorus of “I hope I never have to kill a man” as the Gipsy fiddle player burns the strings, sets the stage for an ending Johnny Cash would have been proud of.
Title track California Star is a delightfully; easy going Country-Swing tune that will be best suited to a Summer’s evening with a nice bottle of wine and the love of your life sitting beside you; barely uttering a word as Martin’s honeyed tones drift off into the night air.
I’m in Love For The Very First Time; which closes the record, has a sweet Reggae lilt to it as our hero finally gets hit by the ‘thunderbolt’ and couldn’t be any happier with life, which comes through every line like red love-hearts on Valentine’s Day.
While it’s all too easy to pigeon-hole Martin Stephenson as a Folk singer; but, when he has the Daintees with him he defies boundaries; some lyrics border on poetry and the songs all have elements of Folk, Ragtime, Country to them and even; dare I say it – Pop melodies creep in when you are least expecting them.
This is the sound of a great wordsmith growing old gracefully and taking us with him on the ride.
A FREE EP of three tracks is available to download here – http://daintees.bandcamp.com/
released 29th July