Martin Harley At The Hotel Cafe

  • Martin Harley

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By Brent Burns
Hollywood, Calif.

One of my favorite music destinations in Hollywood is the Hotel Cafe. It's one of the most promising places to find new music talent. Originally opened in 2000 as a coffee shop by aspiring screenwriters Max Mamikunian and Marko Shafer, the Hotel Cafe has quickly earned a reputation as a premier intimate performance space with a significant local following.

Needless to say, this venue was a matchless setting for the sultry rasp of British folk/blues slide guitarist and songwriter Martin Harley. Once Harley took center stage, he demonstrated why the audience was so excited just to hear him say "hello." With a few simple strums and introductory vocals, Harley's lifelong devotion to ageless blues and roots sounds and his globetrotting influences were readily apparent. He opened with "When I Go," an instantly contagious song that combines the singer's gruff, soulful vocals with a sturdy, shuffling beat. Harley's performance transcended the song's blues roots as he moved his hands up and down his slide guitar like a possessed man.

With a downstroke rhythm that was punctuated by blasts of dirty bass drum hits and sharp hand claps from Harley and his audience, "Mojo Fix" justified its position as the slathered-up lead single from Harley's forthcoming solo album of the same name, due Sept. 18. Harley cranked out more outrageous slide guitar on this song, his technique making you forget what you know about the fretboard and standard tuning. Another highlight included a cover of Tom Waits' "Chocolate Jesus." Harley's energy onstage was enough to resurrect images of blues greats such as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.

Throughout his set, Harley's talent was evident, but I was not expecting clever commentary between songs. When he led into "Money Don't Matter," he joked, "The best things in life should be free, which they are, except for my album, which will be available soon in your local record store." 

Following the release of his album, Harley will embark on a U.S. tour, including dates with Gavin DeGraw and Good Old War, among others, as well as a slot on the main stage at the Live In The Vineyard music festival in Napa, Calif., on Nov. 2.

If you've got a blues vibe in you, I recommend Martin Harley. You won't be sorry.

Set List:

"When I Go"
"Cardboard King"
"Steady Rollin'"
"Blues At My Window"
"Mojo Fix"
"Nobody's Fault But Mine"
"Money Don't Matter"
"Chocolate Jesus" (Tom Waits cover)

(Brent Burns is the dance/electronica GRAMMY.com Community Blogger.)

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