Every bit as accomplished and deserving of attention and applause.
Michael Quinn 2009-07-30
2007's Prodigal Son proved a high-water mark in Martin Simpson's near 40-year career, picking up a clutch of awards (including BBC Radio 2's Folk Album of the Year) and provoking unanimous praise from public and pundits. True Stories seems and sounds every bit as accomplished and deserving of attention and applause.
The mix remains the same – an intelligent and incisive blend of traditional and original material woven together to conjure up an imaginative, richly populated landscape drawn, ironically enough in this instance, from songs claiming to illustrate true narratives.
The musical accent is marked by a lightly-worn eclecticism that effortlessly embraces New Orleans jazz and countrified pedal guitar (the empathetic jauntiness of An Englishman Abroad), Northumbrian dance tunes (the sprightly Kielder Schottische and small-scale epic Will Atkinson) and Scottish ballads in the magnificent album opener, Look Up, Look Down, and the bittersweet The Wind and the Rain, with both also borrowing from American and English influences. There are hints of R&B, the Blues and the nursery room – Done It Again fills out Humpty Dumpty's biography to touching mock-heroic effect – with Simpson's discretely coloured vocals assuming an almost conversational, tone throughout.
The voice aside, Simpson is at his quietly virtuosic best instrumentally, with scene-stealing displays of finger-picking dexterity jostling for attention with the subtlest of approaches to telling detail and a bold, unfettered command of gesture.
Support comes courtesy of strong-in-depth contributions from bass icon Danny Thompson, pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole, Bellowhead's fiddler-frontman Jon Boden, ex-Page and Plant hurdy-gurdy guru Nigel Eaton, Radiohead drummer Phil Selway, ace accordionist Andy Cutting and co-producer Andy Seward on bass.
You'd be best advised to approach some of the tales on True Stories with a sceptical ear, but it's safe to take at face value the quality of execution from a musician clearly at the top of his form and capable of weaving wonderfully evocative musical tapestries from apparently base materials.