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Martin Simpson "The Bramble Briar" TOPIC TSCD513

Any release on the Topic label is important, whether a new talent, the result of a trawl through their archives, or, as in this case, the work of an established artist. The fact that it's from someone of the calibre of Martin Simpson makes it all the more important.

He has played professionally since the age of 15, recorded his first album by the age of 22, recorded with many of the Greats, and is still at the top some 20-odd years later. Martin's acoustic guitar style has often been copied - but rarely bettered - and is highly regarded amongst fellow professionals and audiences alike. Recently he has been living in California making the odd excursion to these shores, but the good news is that this CD marks a bit of a 'homecoming', as it is now Martin's intention to share his time between California and here - bet it's not winter in Britain!!!

New releases have been a bit scarce over the last few years whilst much of his back catalogue has been made available. As I said this CD marks a return to these shores as all the material is English. Much was already in his repertoire and needed little preparation. Most of the songs tell a story - in his informative notes Martin points out that the subject matter ranges from ships to the Bible and from death to class distinction. Ten are traditional whilst the other two will be!!!

It would be pointless to choose my favourites, or to list the tracks as all will be known to any LT reader. Whilst they are traditional, as I've said, they all feel to be Martin's as he stamps his unique guitar and vocal style on them. Half of the material is Martin on his own - being joined by Mr. Carthy, Chris Parkinson, Barry Phillips (who provides some wonderful cello) and Jessica Radcliffe at times on the rest. This really is a significant release by one of the true "stars" of our musician, and for me, ranks among his best. I think it will be an album that sells well, as he is touring here to coincide with the release, and I'll be surprise if it's not one of the albums of the year.

I feel privileged to have been asked to review it - I hope I've done it justice. There will be others who are more able to comment on the technicalities of the playing and the subtleties of the singing, I just know it oozes with quality. One of the best albums of English song for many a moon - let's celebrate it. Thanks Martin.

Dave Beeby

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This album was reviewed in Issue 44 of The Living Tradition magazine.