“Now and again, you stumble across a rare talent of such sheer genius that you wonder whether what you have witnessed can possibly be for real. Dom Martin is one such talent”
A recent quote from the “Blues in Britain” fanzine…. Now I don’t normally like to include others’ quotes in my reviews but exceptionally, one really does merit inclusion and I think it’s fair to say this is one! Dom Martin is a multi-award winning and multi-nominated Northern Irish blues guitarist, hailed by many as the the Blues’ biggest Irish export since a bloke called Rory something…..he won three awards at last year’s UK Blues Awards and this year is nominated in no less than five categories – so he must be doing something right!
Dom released his debut album Spain to Italy in 2019, the tracks being a mixture of acoustic solo and electric with tales based on his own life-experiences. It got rave reviews, like the one above – and not just from the UK; US critics being equally impressed. Come the Covid pandemic, live performances were obviously at a premium so when the opportunity did arise (at the Harlington, Fleet, Hampshire in December 2020), the one-off show was recorded and released. Live At The Harlington was released in July 2021 and showcased the rawness and intimacy of his live performances, the album again attracting critical acclaim and out-playing stellar artists (including one Joe Bonnamassa). As a result, Dom will be the UK representative at The International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee in May.
So, all in all, the stage is set (sic) for Dom to break through big-style this year, and his new album A Savage Life will be at the heart of this – deservedly so!
A Savage Life features ten songs, all written or arranged by Dom (guitar and vocals), with stellar musicianship from Dave Thompson (bass guitar) and Laurence McKeown (drums).
The opener Unsatisfied is a heavy, slow-burning riff-laden number that could have been written by Cream in their pomp, with more than a touch of Joe Bonamassa. It’s great stuff, soaked in fuzzy 70’s vibes with appropriately fluid guitar, in turns simmering and shimmering. Quite short but “Tasty” (sorry!) It pauses very briefly before we’re straight into Here Comes The River, another slow but much more gentle, mournful song, Dom almost whispering the sad tale. He’s on his own, just picking chords and engaging you. Dom has an absolutely classic Blues voice – howling wolf on some tracks, gravelly on the opener, but smoky, gentle, husky on this track. It’s hugely immediate, intimate, personal – like you’re sat in a private audience of one.
Blues On The Bay – what a great title, although it actually belongs to a local festival in the North of Ireland that Dom frequents. He used to be a regular visitor as a fan, and when eventually asked to perform he wrote this song in tribute to the festival and to fulfilling his childhood dreams. The Man From Nowhere has a nicely scratchy background hiss, the whole picked out on what sounds almost like a banjo! I’m guessing a resonator figures here, it’s an autobiographical tale of Dom being out on the road, as a man from nowhere who nobody knows – Surely not the case any more!
12 Gauge is a classic chunk of blues-rock power trio, a la Taste, and this is where Dom genuinely rivals Rory Gallagher for gripping, live guitar fret-work. Great fun to listen to, they’re having great fun playing it! This is where Dom’s voice takes on an almost baritone blues richness. Echoes returns to the singer-songwriter form, it has a touch of Celtic mysticism to its feel as Dom reflects on losing his parents.
Drink In Blue Colours by contrast has a jazzy, “lounge lizard” feel to it; you can imagine relaxing in a hotel bar with your favourite tipple while this washes over you! The middle section surprises with a suddenly energetic burst of a solo, sandwiched either side by Dom almost crooning! A second solo hits the heights in every sense. Addict follows, another singer-songwriter glimpse into Dom’s teenage past. This somehow reminds me of Nick Drake, bless him.
Maxwell Shuffle brings us back to the bar-room power trio, in honour of Dom’s friend “Flash” Gordon Maxwell who passed away in 2021. I think Rory Gallagher would be impressed with this sincere tribute. The album is then brought to a close with a contemporary yet traditional arrangement of an old Scottish lament. It’s often played at Celtic wakes and Dom has dedicated it to his friend Gordon.
To sum up then, the album is a mixture of acoustic solo and electric, a blend of pure blues, bar-room blues and singer-songwriter that works in an under-stated, very “live” and intimate production, mostly created in a single take – that being his preferred way of working. All credit to Dom, and to Chris O’Brien and Graham Murphy at The Production Suite, Dublin, for achieving that. Dom has conquered the dreaded second album syndrome with aplomb, not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve and keep things deliberately simple. The blues on this record are real!