Martin Luther: Superstar Soul

Guitarist and singer-songwriter Martin Luther McCoy is best known for the years he spent with Philadelphia hip-hop collective The Roots. It’s something he’s keenly aware of.

“Joining the Roots was probably the biggest humbling experience for me,” said Martin Luther, during an interview on the Google campus. “I’m more part of their ensemble than a group member. Any time they need me to get down, they know I’ll be there.”

"Superstar" Martin Luther

As he spoke, well-wishers greeted him with compliments like, “I saw you with The Roots in…” However, Luther’s career extends beyond the mighty Roots crew. It dates back to the late ‘90s, when he emerged as part of a Bay Area neo-soul scene that included Meshell Ndegeocello, Goapele, Ledisi, and Raphael Saadiq. (He hosts a showcase in Oakland every summer called “Rebel Soul Fest”; this year’s installment included Bilal, Dâm-Funk and Los Rakas.) Luther has issued three albums of original material, including the just-released Extra Terrestrial Brother Vol. 1 on his Rebel Soul Records imprint (and issued under the name “Martian Luther”). He scored a lead role and contributed to the soundtrack of Julie Taymor’s Beatles homage Across the Universe. And he has performed with Dave Matthews, Jill Scott, Red Hot Chili Peppers and many others.

Luther’s high-profile session guitarist assignments tend to overshadow his solo work, but the latter deserves a listen. Rebel Soul, the title of his 2004 album, has become a calling card for an artist who freely moves from lush, bluesy soul to hard funk-rock and hip-hop grooves, and often writes with a social conscience. On the day of the Google concert, he delved into several unreleased songs, including “Superstar,” an optimistic dedication to single-parent families. “Though Daddy’s gone, don’t let it slow you down,” he sang in a sympathetic yet insistent voice. While “Superstar” was light and yearning, “Killer Machine” sounded rough and apocalyptic. He described a crumbling world of wars and corrupt politicians, then added, “Go for your guns or go for your dreams/ Everyone here knows love is the hero of the scene,” a reference to his forthcoming album, Love is the Hero.

Luther sounded great that day, but there was one problem: He chose to simply play rhythm guitar, and gave lead guitar to one of his band members. It was an odd choice for a man whose reputation hinges on gloriously ringing solos. Though we would’ve preferred to hear one of Luther’s trademark squalls, perhaps he was indirectly telling us that it’s time we focused on Martin Luther the songwriter, not just the guitar god. -- Mosi Reeves

"Superstar" Martin Luther


Anonymous said...

Really good. Such a good voice too.

Brian said...

Killer Machine really should be a Bond theme song. Definitely has that vibe to it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Martian Luther... I am completely in love with this dude. What he said? " a Good Looking and a Good Catch " For sure he is right about that!

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