Martin Simpson: Vagrant Stanzas

I remember seeing Martin Simpson at a festival in England in the early 1980s. He was then one of the bright new hopes in English folk music, and had released his first album. I liked him, bought a few albums, but lost track of him when he moved across the Atlantic.

Come the new millennium he was back in Yorkshire and back on Topic records with “Bramble Briar”, an album that still has got a firm grip on me. And it was only the first of half a dozen album, each one a classic in its own right. And on number four and five, “Prodigal Son” and “True Stories” he also established himself as a superb song writer. Song like “Never Any Good with Money” and “Home Again” constantly run in my Ipod half a dozen years after they were first released.
Now Martin is back with another offering, “Vagrant Stanzas”, a true solo album since it features Martin and Martin alone. It was also recorded almost live in the studio, with very few overdubs. It was released by Topic Records in 2013.

The 14 tracks contains the mixture you would expect from a concert with Martin Simpson. There are a few instrumentals, two with electric guitar, two with the acoustic. My favourites among them are his own “Molly as She Swings” and the closing “Come Write me Down”.

Two of the nine songs are from Martin’s own pen. The first is “Jackie and Murphy“, the true story about a man and a donkey that worked together as stretcher bearers in Gallipoly in 1915. When the man Jack Simpson Kirkpatrick was killed by gunfire after 24 days the pair had rescued 300 men. After the war the donkey was decorated, Jack was not. Martin turns it into a lovely song, parts of it a dialogue between Jack and his donkey.
There are also a couple of Child Ballads. One is “Lady Gay”, sometimes called “The Wife of Usher’s Well”, where Martin gets to use his banjo. The other a slow version of “Waly Waly”, one of many tracks featuring Martin’s slide playing.

He also delivers a mighty rendition of Leon Rosselson’s “Palaces of Gold”, a stand out track. But even better is his reading of Chris Wood’s “Come Down Jehova”, which is a new song to me.

What I especially like about Martin Simpson, and that goes for this new album as well as everything else he has recorded, is that he always places the song or tune in the centre. He is a brilliant singer and interpreter and as a guitar player he is second to none. But he never show off, his playing is always there to lift the material he is performing, not to show the world how good he is.

With now other instruments but his own this new album at first comes out as more low key than his recent efforts. But give it time and it will sink in and grow on you. As I am writing I am into my fourth listening and it gets better each time. Another success for Mr Simpson.

This can be ordered from Martin Simpson’s website.

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