Martin & James: Martin & James - Album of the Month - May 2011

~ Tuesday, 24 May 2011
The Scottish duo of Martin Kelly and James O'Neill are relatively unknown here in the UK but have been building a fan base and live reputation by touring and gigging relentlessly from their adopted home of Berlin. Unable to get picked up by a label in the UK, the lads relocated to Berlin and had signed to a major, Vertigo records, within 6 months. 2 years of touring with the likes of Millow, One Republic, The Stereophonics, Taylor Swift, Simply Red and Bryan Adams honed them into a formidable live experience. This is the point where I put my cards on the table. I've been a fan of these guys for many years. We grew up in the same town and I have followed their career with great interest. I think they are a truly brilliant band. Now, having said all that, if I didn't like this record, I would not be shy in saying so.

Their trademark sound is intelligent folk/pop with a strong lyrical edge, all topped of with Simon and Garfunkelesque vocal harmonies and they have managed to capture the essence of this with this record. Sure the production is slightly over polished so we lose that raw edge that makes them such an exciting prospect live, but the songs... the wonderful songs shine like a beacon in the world of mass produced style over content approach of Lady Gaga and her kin.

The album kicks off with the off kilter beats of Tides. The dual vocal approach is embraced from the off and shows their acoustic based sound to contain hints of Crowded House and Simon & Garfunkel. The jangly pop of Wheels is built for the hazy summers festivals with a driving beat to keep the crowd bouncing and a killer chorus to have them singing along in full voice. Live favourite Crashing Into Love makes the transition onto record with surprising ease and sounds as dark and brooding as it does live with thundering drums, jangling 12 string and impassioned vocals.

The spartan piano and acoustic guitar of Broken Sword are atmospheric and hypnotic, especially when the layered vocal harmonies introduces an additional melody into the mix and makes this one of the albums most memorable moments. Former single Wrong Direction is gloriously downbeat and unapologetic for it. Martin Kelly's voice cuts through like a ray of sunshine on a overcast day with snippets of guitar acting like little explosions of raindrops on a barren landscape.

This is a record of songs that delight the ears and grow stronger with every listen. With songwriting of such quality it is hard to pick favourites but I Was Blind and Beautiful keep me reaching for the repeat button. The former has a simplicity to it that makes it sound familiar yet fresh while the former has a delicate beauty and a chorus that gets lodge in your head and stays there so long it should be paying you rent. Within the first few bars of Bad Dream I have a new favourite. The rhythmic percussion is matched by some fantastic finger picking courtesy of Kelly while O'Neill takes on vocal duties.

This album has a strange trick up its sleeve. Every track on it works yet there are no obvious singles. Damian Rice's O was a bit like that. It had songs of great beauty that connected with people yet it was hard to see where the airplay would come from. Perhaps the upbeat Found You or Wheels stand the best chance of appealing to the fickle bosses of commercial radio but it would be a shame if this album was not to get the commercial appreciation that it deserves.

I can genuinely say that you could not meet two nicer or more talented guys than Martin and James. This is a fantastic, uplifting, emotional and refreshing record that if there is any justice in the world will bring them the success they deserve.

[][][][][] (5/5)