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Martyn Bates, "Your Jewled Footsteps"

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This is a fantastic compilation that shows the range and talent that Bates is in possession of. Cold, post punk songs sit comfortably beside real English folk songs that are full of warmth. Impressively, despite covering over 25 years of his career, the different styles and periods of Bates' works still sound like they were recorded all in one go.


Sub Rosa
With folk now being a term used loosely by many, including myself, it is important to get things straight: Bates writes songs in a proper folk style; he does not just throw an acoustic guitar into the mix and try to pass it off as some hippie jam piece of crap. Instead his songs have an ancient quality about them, sounding like they have been crafted by a few generations of singers. Songs like "Shorepoem" and "Cherry Tree Carol" are two examples of Bates' quality songwriting. There is a timelessness to these songs that is hard to capture and surprisingly the small hints of electronics used in the songs do not take away from this timelessness.

It is not just serious folky sounds that this compilation covers but the poppier end of the spectrum too. Songs like "First and Last February" and "Later War Cries" remind me of Matt Johnson's brand of pop but Bates is far from a The The clone. His more experimental efforts are also represented by an excerpt from a noisy piece called "Dissonance" from before he formed Eyeless in Gaza. This piece would sound at home on Industrial Records, which is not something that can be said of the rest of Your Jewled Footsteps.

One problem with some of the songs, mainly those from the early '80s, is that there is sometimes a severe hint of goth off them. At times Bates puts too much effort into sounding emotional on these tracks, coming off a little hysterical. However, the keyboards on all these early songs are excellent, very like those found on Joy Division's Closer which is no small complement in my book. The music and the singing improve as Bates' career progresses with the mid-'90s material definitely being the best in overall quality. Although some of the better lyrics belong to James Joyce and not to Bates, his musical arrangements of Joyce's poetry are a damn sight better than many I have heard on many a Bloomsday walking through Dublin.

Your Jewled Footsteps is a wonderful collection of songs. To the detriment of other albums that need reviewing I have been spinning this quite a lot over the last couple of weeks. It does not sound like a compilation at all; Bates' work all fits together nicely so instead of sounding disjointed like most career retrospectives it sounds more like a normal album. I cannot recommend this enough for those who are new to Bates. As for those who are familiar with his work, there are enough rare and unreleased songs here to justify the release of Your Jewled Footsteps.


Last Updated on Saturday, 06 January 2007 17:06  


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