BAD CASE OF LOVIN’… Moon Martin

 

Where are you today,
John David Martin? Get in touch – your long-suffering fans are diggin’ a trove
of your recent reissues.

 

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

 

Back in the late ‘70s, the term “new wave” didn’t refer to a
specific style of music, but an actual new
wave
of rock & roll that followed punk’s stripped-down aesthetic, if
not its search-and-destroy principles. The point was still to take rock back to
a simpler sound and get it away from arena rock bombast and overproduced top 40
pop. One by-product of this sea change was that musicians working in a style
that would now be called Americana found a way back into the rock mainstream
merely by making subtle adjustments to what they were already doing (Nick Lowe,
John Hiatt, Carlene Carter) or, in some cases, no adjustments at all (the Stray
Cats).

 

One such musician was John “Moon” Martin, born in 1950. Prior
to his solo career he was best known (if at all) as a member of early ‘70s
country rock outfit Southwind. But the singer/songwriter has roots in the same
fertile Oklahoma
scene from which sprang Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour, with a love of
rockabilly and a facility for pop hooks that made him a natural for the new
wave ‘70s. While he had only one minor hit of his own, he scored a couple of
others when his compositions found their way into other hands. (More on that
below.) But his work of the era has stood the test of time and deserves
rediscovery, a task helped by the reissues of his first three albums by Culture
Factory USA.

 

Released in 1978, Shots
From a Cold Nightmare
is Martin’s debut solo LP, and arguably his
definitive statement. The record rolls all this strengths into one collection –
rootsy rockers (“Hot Nite in Dallas,” “She’s a Pretender,” the
rockabilly-infused “Cadillac Walk,” later covered by Mink DeVille), soulful
ballads (“Night Thoughts”), midtempo brooders (“Pain Killer,” “You Never Say
You Love Me”). His take on the Beatles’ “All I’ve Got to Do” is an unexpected
delight, but the most immediately striking track is “Bad Case of Loving You,” a
no-nonsense pounder given a feverish (some might say overheated) remake by
Robert Palmer a year later. Fronting a band that includes Phil Seymour,
Blondie’s Gary Valentine and producer Craig Leon on keyboards, Martin proffers
straightforward, uncomplicated arrangements that emphasize the tunes and his
double-tracked red velvet vocals. Shots
From a Cold Nightmare
is arguably a lost 70s classic, now found again.

 

 

 

 

Martin followed Shots up with 1979’s Escape From Domination,
a record which turns up the pop quotient, at least relative to the debut. Thus
alongside the bopping “Hot House Baby” and “Dangerous” and the snarling “Gun
Shy,” we also get the peppy “I’ve Got a Reason” and “She Made a Fool Out of
You.” Ironically, “Rolene,” Martin’s lone top 40 hit (also later covered by
Mink DeVille), is a roots rocker with no concession to pop slickness. Martin
closes the album with a nod to his past in the form of “Bootleg Woman,” written
by his old Southwind bandmate Fontaine Brown. The midtempo “The Feeling’s
Right,” the soft rocking “No Chance” and the creamy ballad “Dreamer” shave off
a few too many edges, with the latter being too close to easy listening for
comfort, but the rest of the record will still please fans of the first one. (Trainspotters
will note the presence of Jude Cole, soon to be of the Records and a future
solo artist, on backup guitar.)

 

 

 

 

1980’s Street Fever cranks up the rock elements, with louder guitars and a predominance of faster
tempos and bolder aggression. (As aggressive as possible with Martin’s
mellifluous voice, anyway.) “Breakout Tonight,” “Pushed Around” and “Love Gone
Bad” stand up nicely to the tough power pop of the era, while “No Dice” grooves
in a way that would become familiar to new wavers in the Reagan years and “Five
Days of Fever” simply rocks harder than anything he’s ever done before. “Cross
Your Fingers,” meanwhile, evokes a Phil Spectorish melody and arrangement
without bombast and “Rollin’ in My Rolls” Rockpiles the record to a close. The
mellow “Whispers,” however, sounds like it should be on a different album, nice
as its harmony beds are. The songwriting occasionally feels slight here, but
overall Street Fever maintains the standards
set by Martin’s previous records.

 

Culture Factory’s limited editions are replicas of the
original vinyl releases, from the credits and the liner notes to the copyright
information and label on the disk itself. As such there are no bonus tracks or
historical notes, though the sound has been remastered, giving the music more
clarity without sacrificing vinyl warmth.

 

 

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