Martyn Joseph’s journey continues artistically and spiritually and both are utterly captivating. First the art. Under Lemonade Skies is the Welshman’s sixteenth album and arguably his best crafted work. It is almost given as read these days that Joseph’s songs are as good as songwriting gets on these islands so it is the production that makes the jury concentrates when judging every new record. Young American multi instrumentalist and producer Mason Neely has brought a layering of the soundscapes to these songs and there are times when you can get swept away on guitar, saxophone or piano playing. It is lush without being too smooth, immediately accessible without being too pop and intricately played without being too self indulgent. It is maybe Joseph’s best sounding album.
The songs take on Joseph’s usual themes; Lonely Like America is another use of that vast country as an analogy to individual lives; there is that hoping midst reality’s pain on There’s Always Maybe; those little reaching out prayers on You’re The Moment; and those journey songs like On My Way and Brothers In Exile. They are all of the highest quality but as I said at the outset the images, the rhyme, the economy of words when needed and the flurry of words when effective are getting better and better with every Joseph album.
This album was originally to be called Lonely Like America which perhaps musically is the centre piece. It does not though reflect the themes of the entire album and Martyn’s wife Sian chose that much more fitting title. Bush’s America is over and perhaps with it some of Joseph’s most recent anger is abated. Here we might have the new era template of Obama because these songs are more about empathy and brother/sisterhood.
In an Evening In Conversation with Martyn recently he spoke about trying to write songs that are companions for people on the road, songs that make you feel that you are not alone. He spoke of doing this vocation as his way to love his neighbour. He said that he wonders at times whether he has succeeded and feels jealous of the plumber who can leave having fixed the leak and no his job was a good one. Well, Martyn Joseph needs to be assured that in these songs he has succeeded. They are great companions on the journey, they are like little caresses of grace for all life’s experiences. Frederick Buechner speaks of vocation as the place where our deepest gladness meets the world’s greatest need and Joseph has fulfilled his vocation most brilliantly on Under Lemonade Skies. I simply love having him and his songs as Brothers in Exile.