Virtuoso folkie at home with family and tradition
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.