Artist: Gregg Martinez
Album: Soul of the Bayou
Label: Louisiana Red Hot
Release Date: 04/15/2016
Imbued with the spirit of his mentor, the late, great Johnny Adams, this is the 11th studio release and second label release for Gregg Martinez, the multi-octave Creole vocalist who has been performing for more than forty years now. Dubbed by some as the “White Teddy Pendergrass,” you’ll hear echoes of the iconic soul singers like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Luther Vandross and others in his approach and the material itself. Martinez sung at Percy Sledge’s funeral. These days Martine remains mostly a regional treasure purveying what he terms “Louisiana Swamp Pop” – a genre indigenous to Cajun country and the eastern border of Texas – a melding of New Orleans R&B, country, and French influences. In his earlier years, Martinez toured on worldwide stages, had an exclusive contract with Donald Trump in Atlantic City, and a seven-figure Philly soul recording deal. Few have the combination of his limitless vocal range and natural gifts for both rollicking tempo and aching R&B balladry. For me, Johnny Adams was the pinnacle so my comparison does not come lightly.
The disc begins with his danceable take on Anne Peebles’ “Can’t Stand the Rain” followed by a shift into Smoky Robinson’s devastating ballad “Who’s Loving You.” Contributions from Gregg Kingston on slide guitar and Pat Breaux on saxophone, and Charles Ventre on keys bolster Martinez’s soulful delivery. The highlight and best example of Martinez’s powerful vocal chops is on “Wish I’d Never Loved You At All,” associated with Johnny Adams. I’m hearing Adams’ influence later in the disc on the ballads, “If I Had Any Pride Left at All,” “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” and Bobby Bland’s “You’ve Got to Hurt Before You Heal” where Gregg’s son, James, takes the guitar lead. Notably, Sonny Landreth’s signature slide drives the Martinez penned “That Old Wind.” His voice can send shivers and chill you.
Martinez will be performing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival which begins this weekend. His previous disc on LRH, Creole Soul, is very similar and is highly recommended as it features tunes from Merle Haggard, Bobby Charles, Delbert McClinton, Al Green, Randy Newman and more Martinez originals. He may well be the most powerful vocalist you’ve heard since the Tan Canary (Johnny Adams).
– Jim Hynes