Van Gordon Martin | No Limit To Love
Album review by John Powell
Van Gordon Martin is likely best known as the shredding guitarist of Spiritual Rez, with a low growl voice that every now and again contributes to the Rez repertoire, but when you hear No Limit To Love his solo album, you start to understand his command of funk and reggae, and how much he influences as much as he’s been influenced.
The album’s first half is funk and side two is reggae. Beyond that, each song explores different subcategories in those genres. The opener, also the title track, is 70s style groove with shucked electric guitar, a walking bass line, and horns. Van’s voice has two modes: low like sex-master and a bit higher in range, sounding a lot like Michael Franti. Both are good voices and he utilizes both on “No Limit to Love”. “Won’t you clap your hands and sing it?” he asks, “Won’t you take me for a ride?” It’s a fast-paced start- happy go lucky and fun.
Other songs take a fun approach too. “Uptown Hustle” is a clear homage to Pfunk. Nathan Sabanayagam’s drums stay fixed with handclaps. Scott Flynn, trombonist for John Brown’s Body, and Gershon Rosen on Trumpet make up the horn section, but Nate Edgar, also of John Brown’s Body, has the most fun, however. Here he plays around with heavy low-end bass in the spirit of Parliament, fluttering around the frets and driving the song forward.
A key funk track is “Just For You”, laced with doo-wop glitter but truthful to soul. “Like a flower/it starts to bloom,” Van sings, “That is you in my mind.” Spiritual Rez bandmate Toft Willingham provides backing vocals, and their voices blend so nicely. The horn line is tasty. It’s deadly infectious with its hook.
The reggae portion begins with “Inity Dub”, and Van has always had a great sense of sound, playing around with sound effects and the structure of layers. This classic reggae dub is wonderful. Van switches gears lyrically. “Dreadlocks on the lion/yah!” Eli Winderman takes over the Hammond organ for this one.
“Father”, “Thank you JAH”, and “Many Roads” are all steeped in Rasta terms and themes. Van is invested, singing, “No more tribulations/sugarfy your mind.” He’s a hopeful, spiritual man, apparent through both his voice and his guitar.
Two solo guitar instrumentals, “Interlude” and “Wainaku”, show off Van’s versatility. They both sound the perfect amount of composed and improvised. It’s great to hear him on acoustic guitar, and if he ever wanted to make an all-acoustic instrumental album he’d have no problem fitting in with some of the better known artists in that category. Certainly, the change in volume and vibe can throw you off if you’re really into the groovier stuff, but you can tell he thought about the safest places for them to not be outshined or invasive.
A highlight is Van’s take on The Grateful Dead’s “Saint Stephen”, which, with guitar reverb turned up, turns into a surfer-esque reggae romp. Nate’s bass comes across excellently. Some of the most fun moments in reggae are those when an artist can pull songs from outside the genre and see the rootsy value to it, transforming the song into something new. Van accomplishes that here. It’s the soundtrack to a summer.
You could accuse Van of robbing his heroes without being too original, but he makes funk and reggae music, so come on! The goal of No Limit To Love was never to reinvent the sounds, but rather to explore them and make an album that never dulls and never looses your interest. It’s a hard feat, but Van makes it look easy.
Bottom line: An under-the-radar sound-gasm from an underrated musician.