tue 01/12/2020

Album: Martin Simpson - Home Recordings | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Martin Simpson - Home Recordings

Album: Martin Simpson - Home Recordings

Fingerpicking good

Simpson serves up some prime cuts

It’s 50 years since Martin Simpson dropped out of college to follow his vocation as a guitarist and his intention had been to celebrate the milestone with a live album.

It’s 50 years since Martin Simpson dropped out of college to follow his vocation as a guitarist and his intention had been to celebrate the milestone with a live album. The best-laid plans… Instead Home Recordings finds him live in his living room and on his Peak District porch, the sounds of nature captured on “Lonesome Valley Geese” and on “March 22”, the brief closing track.

Despite the American accent of three key numbers, it’s a very English album, right down to the beautiful sound of Simpson’s Turnstone guitar (played in open tunings) which adds its distinctive tone colour. He is a brilliant and lavishly garlanded player much in demand as a session man (Albion Band, June Tabor, Cara Dillon) and this relaxed down-home recording, on which he also picks ukulele and banjo, is a real keeper. The intimacy makes it special.

The varied textures and timbres of Home Recordings mean the album never fades into the background but rather holds the attention throughout. “Plains of Waterloo” is a typically Simpsonesque instrumental, lots of bluesy, bent notes and slide. It gives way to “An Englishman Abroad”, another original, with occasional touches of Mississippi John Hurt. “Admiral Benbow”, a traditional song covered by many of folk music’s most celebrated practitioners, demonstrates Simpson’s skill and precision as a guitarist – it’s a complicated piece, rapid scalic runs in both melody and counterpoint, intensely rhythmic and heavily syncopated. It’s all so fluid and fluent. And then he sings!

“The House Carpenter” is one of the three-hundred or so English and Scottish ballads catalogue by Harvard scholar Francis James Child. Sometimes known as “The Demon Lover”, it is replete with the folk tropes of temptation and punishment, and references to the supernatural. Simpson accompanies himself on the banjo, which gives the song a very particular flavour.

Two classic slices of Americana are standouts: “Angel from Montgomery” is a fitting tribute to John Prine, a brilliant singer-songwriter who battled ill-health only to become an early victim of Covid. It’s a beautiful song to which Simpson does full justice. And then there’s his cover of “The Times They Are a-Changin’”, one of Bob Dylan’s most iconic songs. The vocal line is of course completely recognisable but Dylan’s play-in-a-day guitar accompaniment is here transformed into something altogether different, the song’s melody line picked and hammered and generally embellished over a quasi-drone bass.

Simpson is one of the world’s great fingerstyle guitarists, equally at home in American folk and blues and traditional English folk, with all its shared links to the rhythms and modalities of Elizabethan-style dance music. Had he lived, you can imagine a fruitful collaboration with David Munrow.

Simpson is one of the world’s great fingerstyle guitarists, at home in American folk and blues and traditional English folk

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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