Tuesday, 16 July 2013

MARTIN SIMPSON

CD Review

Vagrant Stanzas

It may seem a bizarre comparison but Martin Simpson's footprint is not unlike McDonalds in that wherever you go, whether you are looking for one or not, it will appear sooner or later.

Martin Simpson's new album
Such is the influence of Simpson in that wherever you go within the folk circuit sooner or later his name and fingerprints will crop up, and, I am glad to say, the comparison ends there.
Simpson now in his 60th year and with more than 35 years of playing around the world under his belt can be mentioned in the same way people talk about Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan in terms of the people he has touched and inspired through his music.
June Tabor, Richard Thompson, Jackson Browne, Martin Carthy, Cara Dillon, David Lindley, David Hidalgo, and Dick Gaughan are just a few of the names associated with him.
The problem is after 35 years of playing around the world being acknowledged as one of the world's best acoustic and slide guitarists what do you do next?
Simpson's answer? Get back around your kitchen table pick up your guitar and with nothing else but your strings just play, which is pretty much what he did. His friend from around the table Richard Hawley, helped produce the album probably most effectively by reminding Simpson to keep that kitchen table simplicity when in the studio.
Vagrant Stanzas is the kind of album which stirs the soul, almost every track is filled with emotion which touches something deep in your humanity right from the opening track, Diamond Joe, which not only gives you the flavour of Simpson's voice but also brings you into the world of his banjo picking.
For all the research bunnies out there the title comes from Kentucky banjo player Buell Kazee who described floating verses in traditional songs as "vagrant stanzas".
The glorious thing about Simpson is that not only is he a wonderfully accomplished and respected musician but he is also a consummate storyteller. In tracks such as Jackie and Murphy his voice paints a vivid picture of the lives and events he is singing about.
The track came about thanks to June Tabor who asked Simpson to write a song about Jack Simpson Kirkpatrick and what followed was the vivid and incredible story of a man's bravery in Gallipoli saving the lives of Anzacs with the help of a donkey.
With his many intricate interpretations Simpson has successfully fused Americana, old time blues and traditional folk into an art form which still retains that rawness of the people's music.
Martin Simpson
A great influence on his music were the 15 years he spent living in the States where he not only wrote but worked on the production side for many tracks.
Simpson's pedigree has been recognised many times, not just by his peers, but in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards where he has enjoyed an unprecedented 26 nominations in the dozen years the awards have been running.
His latest album which is being released in two versions, the standard one and deluxe edition with extra tracks and information, will be officially launched at the Cambridge Folk Festival on July 28 where he will be in the company of musicians such as The Waterboys, Capercaillie, The Staves, fellow legends Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick and John  Hegley to name but a few.
VS is Simpson at his unadorned best from the almost poetic Palaces of Gold which is beautifully accented by his expert slide guitar to the instrumental Blue Eyed Boston Boy which has more than a touch of Ry Cooder and Dire Straits about it.
On Delta Dreams he offers the subtlest and gentlest of blues songs which seems to capture the essence of America but like so much folk music it also has a telling message. Based around a road trip Simpson took while living in New Orleans in the 1990s it vividly speaks of the lost dreams and how things have changed and not always for the better.
For all those critics of the banjo both the serious and the flippant then a single dose of Lady Gray should make them realise what a beautiful, evocative and subtle instrument it is, especially in the hands of an expert such as Simpson.
It's often a lazy cliché to say an album is destined to become an instant classic but in the case of  Vagrant Stanzas this is simply a truth.

Vagrant Stanzas is released by Topic Records and will be officially launched at the Cambridge Folk Festival then released on July 29 and it can be ordered through Amazon on http://amzn.to/16OLldD.