Trails & Tribulations Martin Simpson Topic/Planet It’s a nigh perfect marriage of performance, production and song selection, the kind of album that would represent the apotheosis of most careers. For award-winning musician Martin Simpson, Trails & Tribulations is pretty well par for the course. The gun guitar-playing/banjopicking singer has been responsible for a steady stream of superb albums that incorporate both the English and American folk traditions since an auspicious 1976 debut, Golden Vanity. His 20th solo album in 40 years constitutes yet another classic in a crowded back catalogue that’s also studded with collaborations with stellar musicians across the genre spectrum. Although Simpson has recruited an eight-strong crew for his first new solo work since 2013’s lauded Vagrant Stanzas, he deploys his guests judiciously. There’s a characteristic lack of ostentation in his own playing, just consummate craftsmanship that draws on blues and jazz as well as folk, and his highly individualistic instrumental and singing voices. Simpson starts with what might come to be regarded as a definitive rendition of Jackson C. Frank’s muchcovered Blues Run the Game. Emily Portman’s poignant portrait of a female vagrant, Bones & Feathers, provides an early reminder of Simpson’s prowess on banjo, with bass drum and other percussive effects and distinctive backing vocals from his daughter, Molly. The Irish lilt of Jasper’s/Dancing Shoes — pieces prompted by departed friends and family — is boosted by Nancy Kerr’s exemplary fiddle playing. Like three other new Simpson originals on the set, it dovetails with more sparsely delivered transatlantic traditional standards such as St James Hospital, East Kentucky, Rufford Park Poachers and Reynardine.