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MARTIN SIMPSON -Purpose + Grace

MARTIN SIMPSON -Purpose + Grace
Topic Records  TSCD584

Recognisably settled now within the current folk pantheon, the range and sophistication of this latest album simply serves to reinforce Martin Simpson’s established presence and majestic authority. The wide spectrum of English and American influences that so evidently move and affect him – witness his writings on the song provenance - are increasingly intertwined.

Deeply inspired by and respectful to the essence and meaning of folk-craft traditions and balladry, the songs and music are derived from a wide array of characters, players, places, stories and events. Musically, they are arranged, often with elongated interpretation, with his now distinctive and unique, rather open folk-weave. This is characterised by those features so engaging in his live performances – the intensely centred and entrancing exactitude, relaxed aplomb and secure ease, his own very honest pursuit of ‘purpose and grace’.

The guitar and banjo tunings, timing and technique (acoustic, electric, lap slide and resonator guitars, and five string banjo) are expectedly intricate and complex but it is the transmission of emotion through his playing and voice that is so special. It’s that assured ability to animate and dramatise a story, to invest it with emotional charge, atmosphere and mood. Spirited support from other highly gifted folk is critical to the realisation of this vision through very carefully crafted arrangements. There are powerful vocal contributions from Dick Gaughan, June Tabor and Fay Hield, and instrumental support from Richard Thompson, B. J. Cole, Andy Cutting, Keith Angel, Will Pound, and Martin’s co-producer Andy Seward.

The arrangements cover several traditional pieces and songs by Ewan MacColl (Jamie Foyers), Yip Harburg (Brother Can You Spare A Dime), Richard Thompson (Strange Affair) andBruce Springsteen (Brothers Under The Bridge). So, there are songs of love, war, poverty, age and the general human condition, with the many opportunities for woe, all guided, however, by Harburg’s sympathetic view that “life is a beautiful and exciting journey with a purpose and grace well worth singing about”.

Kevin T. Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 90 of The Living Tradition magazine.