Martin Luther - Love is the Hero (2012)

Martin Luther
Martin Luther Love is the Hero.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

The way Martin Luther so quietly rolls out some of his best material is just so frustrating. For a project this good, there should be fanfare, billboards, ticker tape parades, or at least a proper set-up for a successful run (see my essay Being A Star Before You’re A Star Part II: The Rollout for more info). My 2011 Editor’s Pick for Best Album of 2011 with Extraterrestrial Brother, Vol. 1, Martin (sometimes Martian Luther McCoy) Luther again releases with nary a peep what is easily a career-high with a fresh project that from start to finish leaves no soul stone unturned. More focused and precise is in its production, themes, and accessibility than anything ever released by this gentle giant, Love is the Hero creatively is an artistic apex for the Black rocker whose soul pedigree is deepening with every new release.

The way Martin Luther so quietly rolls out some of his best material is just so frustrating. For a project this good, there should be fanfare, billboards, ticker tape parades, or at least a proper set-up for a successful run (see my essay Being A Star Before You’re A Star Part II: The Rollout for more info). My 2011 Editor’s Pick for Best Album of 2011 with Extraterrestrial Brother, Vol. 1, Martin (sometimes Martian Luther McCoy) Luther again releases with nary a peep what is easily a career-high with a fresh project that from start to finish leaves no soul stone unturned. More focused and precise is in its production, themes, and accessibility than anything ever released by this gentle giant, Love is the Hero creatively is an artistic apex for the Black rocker whose soul pedigree is deepening with every new release.

Having born one another, blues, R&B, and rock have always had a relationship with each other though it can be increasingly difficult to tell -- if strictly formatted radio is your only music outlet. Love is the Hero restores those connections, seamlessly tying ties what decades of musical segregation have made estranged. “Count Your Blessings” is a rock power ballad whose sensibilities are nothing less than bedrock soul, taking flight with full-bodied background “ahhhs” and runs and organ grinds built for the COGIC church. The propulsive “Killer Machine” drives with Minneapolis funk and a lead vocal on the verses reminiscent of Freddie Mercury but the memorable hook is straight hip hop flavored R&B in its rhythm and flow. The latter cut also happens to serves as the title track in its chorus though the actual ominous song title would never indicate so much; such is Luther’s way of embedding one loaded concept within another. The cinematic opening chords worthy of a 70s crime story build and build like a rock arena jam on the dramatic “There You Go” with blaring horns but with “kiss my ass” lyrics that scream "I ain’t got nothin’ but the blues." On every level, “There You Go” is nothing less than a triumph; which makes its follow-up, the acoustic rock simplicity of “And Furthermore” even more awe-inspiring with two choruses that are as unforgettable as their melody: “You try to get to heaven/but you got a little hell to pay/I (can’t) believe you/never been a follower/aint about to start today/if that’s what you want girl/get what you want girl/said that’s what you want girl/go ahead. The second chorus is no less sincere: “And furthermore/you told me that it’s over/so what you calling for/and furthermore/you said you didn’t want my loving anymore/look how you at me now." With blues, rock and soul all threading each other on every cut, one can’t help but gawk at Luther’s ease at making the disparate so seamless and compelling.

The secret of the project’s unyielding infectiousness is in just how much these songs are ruled by an unwavering sense of melody and a resonant voice so sincere, so completely in the moment—whatever that moment that song calls for. Throughout this project, Luther literally singing the highs and lows of love in all its complexities. Fiercely passionate about the subject, Martin Luther tells us nuanced stories of working class, everyday love on mid-tempo grooves like “Pedal to the Metal,” an invitation whose smoothed out sway would’ve glided on radio just a decade ago, without blinking an eye, but now has to settle for an ill-suited home on your Nano. Similarly, “Count Your Blessings” tells not one but several specific stories of love with a timeless message. Luther's observational skills are again on display on the album’s second touchstone power ballad, one that opens with all the silky soul of a Maze cut, “Undefeated Love”: “You can tell by the way that he holds her/that’s his love/an undefeated love/you can tell by the way that he holds her/that’s his love/an undefeated love/undefeated love/hey.” If you aren’t being loved or haven’t been loved in the way that Martin Luther sings about the subject, then you haven’t been loved.

Despite most of the album’s bridge building across relational genres, Martin Luther does try his hand at the straight ahead soul approach on a couple of ballads that go right to the heart. The emotionally devastating “Everything Is U” could’ve been released in any decade over the last 40 years and been an instant quiet storm hit. It’s that good. Reminiscent of LTD cuts like “Share My Love” or “Concentrate On You” in its quiet reverie, but the painful, frustrated howl that bleeds throughout this song is as heart-wrenching as Anthony Hamilton’s emotionally volcanic “Hard to Breathe,” released a few years back. Spirits get lifted in the lead single, but the reverence remains on a cover of Hall & Oates classic “Sara Smile.” With stacked harmonics and updated doo wop flavors, Luther manages to make the soul pop jam more his own than even After 7’s much celebrated version a decade before.  Like his take on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for the Beatles film Across The Universe, Martin Luther never tackles a cover he can’t five-finger in the public’s mind thereafter.

Amidst all these beautiful children Martin Luther shares with his fans, the legend quietly—too quietly—continues to build an iconic catalog brick by brick. On the plaintive, yet inspirational “Somebody’s Superstar,” Luther could have very well have been talking about himself. While radio and the majors continue to ignore an artist as relevant, if not more so, than artists like Lenny Kravitz, Martin Luther graciously continues being “Somebody’s Superstar”…ours.

By L. Michael Gipson

*To follow Michael @LMichaelGipson on Twitter or subscribe to him on Facebook for more opinionated commentary.

 

 

Leave a comment!