“Mojo Fix” – Martin Harley

3 stars (out of 5)

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Product DetailsMore often than not, it’s pretty easy to decide the message of a review.  You like the album or you don’t; it’s original or it’s derivative; it’s played well or it’s played badly.  It can get a bit more complicated when the album provokes both  positive and negative reactions; for me, this is one of those albums.

Throughout Martin Harley’s “Mojo Fix” the playing is exemplary, from the distorted slide and raucous riffing of the title track (with a nod to “Seven Nation Army” in the chorus) through the gentle finger-picking and delicate strings of “Cardboard King” to the electric reggae treatment of “Rum Shack”.  The quality of the songwriting is consistently good throughout the album and, generally speaking, the arrangements work well for the songs.  I love “Cardboard King”, “Treading Water” and “Tightrope” and I could get really enthusiastic about virtually every song on this album if I could accept the necessity for filtering out all of the lower frequencies from the lead vocal on over half of the tracks on the album.  It’s a technique (or gimmick, you choose) which works when it’s used sparingly, but becomes incredibly grating when it’s over-used.  “Wrecking Ball” is a perfect example; it’s an uptempo swing song with horn and violin arrangements which evoke a particular era in the development of pop and rock music between big band jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, but it doesn’t need a megaphone-style vocal to hammer home that message.

If you listen to Martin Harley’s previous work, it’s obvious that he has a powerful, resonant voice which works well against a background of electric or acoustic guitar and it seems like a strange production decision to strip out all of that character for the majority of this album.  Musical taste is always subjective and I’m quite prepared to be shot down in flames, but I’d prefer to hear his voice with all of the frequencies coming through rather than a vocal which sounds like it was recorded in the 1930s.

The quality of the songs, playing and arrangements on the album would earn it a 4/5 rating but, for me, the production is 2/5 at best (feel free to disagree) and, overall, it averages out somewhere in the middle.  On a much more positive note, the contradictions of this album forced me to go back to Martin Harley’s earlier work and I have to say that I loved “Drumrolls for Somersaults”.  I’m also interested to hear how this material is arranged in a live setting, so I’m still looking forward to the 100 Club gig next month.