Tony Martin is back – can it really be nearly forty years since I first saw him at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in a band called The Cage? – and, on new solo album Thorns, we find him sounding in fine fettle indeed. The British vocalist, often unfairly derided for his time in Black Sabbath during the band’s pre-return-of-Ozzy dog days, is very much a fine performer in his own right, and underlines that fact again and again on this surprisingly varied and entertaining effort.
Backed by a tight quartet in Danny Needham (Venom, drums), bassists Magnus Rosen (formerly of HammerFall) and Greg Smith (Rainbow, Alice Cooper) and newcomer Scott McLellan on guitars, Martin trawls the classic heavy rock playbook to create some truly fine music. Opener As The World Burns, already released as a video clip, sees the singer operating at the heaviest end of his spectrum, aided and abetted by some crunchy riffage from McLellan, who proves himself to be a versatile six stringer and ideal foil throughout. His solo on standout track Damned By You, a marvellous track that takes in Kansas and Whitesnake before the solo – Iommi as played by Dimebag in a parallel dimension – is absolutely marvellous, as is the funktabulous, strutting bass provided by Rosen on Black Widow Angel…
But of course the focus here is on Martin, and he doesn’t waste his time to shine. Book of Shadows is his finest vocal performance in years; The Dio and Coverdale influences are strong, obviously, yet for all the criticism down the years of our hero being a ‘poor man’s’ this or that, the voice is recognisably Martin’s, and Martin’s only. His bravura delivery on the staccato heaviness of Run Like The Devil is another highlight (and, with all due respect to Needham, how wonderful would it have been to have heard the late, lamented Cozy Powell thundering away behind the kit on this track?), but he delivers the good on all eleven tracks included here with equal style, command and assurance.
It’s not all wine and roses – this writer’s personal taste dictate that the hard rock bagatelle of No Shame and the acoustic storytelling of This Is Your Damnation just miss the mark, in stylistic terms if nothing else, but overall there can be no dispute that this is an incredibly strong release from a talent that has never quite got the accolades it has deserved down the years. Tony Martin is one of the finest hard rock vocalists to have emerged from the UK, make no mistake, and Thorns is a superb addition to the man’s already-impressive canon.
Thorns Releases on January 14th.