Martin Smith’s new album Live at NIROX Sculpture Park is a recording of his Valentines Blues set at – yes – NIROX Sculpture Park earlier this year. It draws on his entire repertoire, songs old and new, and boasts a major collection of backing musos, including Matthew Dickinson (Yndian Mynah), Tebz Sedumedi (Austebza), Ronald Davey, Dean Bellingham and Tubatsi Moloi (Urban Village).
Smith’s writing is imitative of some of the UK’s post-punk greats – think The Cranberries and The Cure – and brings a great old-school feel along with it. However he maintains a quality of folk, in the vocals especially, that’s specifically South African. It’s hard to explain, but when you hear it, you just know that it’s homegrown. “Firetruck” is maybe the best example of those two influences at play, and the result is deeply impassioned.
The thing about live sessions is that there’s nowhere to hide, such that Smith’s performance can sometimes feel a little scratchy. He tends to hit a wrong note once or twice, but it adds to the raw appeal – you really feel Smith’s voice – and in tracks as heartfelt as “Seven Seas” or “Silverstone I”, it only makes his music all the more moving.