Vir­tu­oso folkie at home with fam­ily and tra­di­tion

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music -

MARTIN Simp­son is among a dy­ing breed of Bri­tish folkies who are as renowned for their all- round gui­tar play­ing as they are as vo­cal­ists ( think Martin Carthy, Bert Jan­sch, Steve Til­ston, Dick Gaughan). Hith­erto his rep­u­ta­tion has rested on read­ings of tra­di­tional songs and tunes from Bri­tain and the US. On the latest and ar­guably great­est album of his 30- year ca­reer, Simp­son reem­pha­sises his art with im­pec­ca­ble in­ter­pre­ta­tions of time­less bal­lads such as Lit­tle Mus­grave , Lakes of Cham­plain , Andrew Lam­mie and The Granemore Hare , pro­vid­ing in­tri­cate gui­tar ac­com­pa­ni­ment to his ex­pres­sive vo­cal­is­ing. He’s sim­i­larly im­pres­sive when tip­ping his hat to Lead­belly ( Dun­can & Brady ) and Ry Cooder ( Good Morn­ing Mr Rail­road Man, ren­dered waltz time on banjo), repris­ing Randy New­man’s pre­scient Louisiana 1927 — one of the out­stand­ing tracks on Simp­son’s 1976 de­but album, Golden Van­ity — and in­ject­ing world- weary res­ig­na­tion into Dick Con­nette’s Batch­e­lors Hall . There’s a bru­tally hon­est song about his fa­ther, Never any Good , and the equally en­gag­ing A Love Let­ter ( a piece he claims took him 50 years to write). The sim­i­larly poignant slide study She Slips Away was penned af­ter watch­ing his mother die and Mother Love was in­spired by see­ing his baby daugh­ter in her mother’s arms. The guest list makes im­pres­sive read­ing — Andy Cut­ting ( ac­cor­dion), Alis­tair An­der­son ( con­certina, pipes), Danny Thompson ( dou­ble bass) and Barry Phillips ( cello) with Jack­son Browne and Kate Rusby on back- up vo­cals — though it plays lit­tle more than a mi­nor role to the star turn’s acous­tic, lap- slide, res­onator and elec­tric gui­tars and five- string banjo. The album con­firms Simp­son’s in­ex­orable rise from Bri­tish folk’s prodi­gal son to one of its grand masters.

Tony Hil­lier

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