sun 26/05/2019

CD: Martin Simpson - Vagrant Stanzas | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Martin Simpson - Vagrant Stanzas

CD: Martin Simpson - Vagrant Stanzas

A master of musical ancestor worship works his magic

Folk master Martin Simpson

Martin Simpson comes heavily laden with the ghosts of redundant iron miners from Minnesota, the betrayed lovers of centuries old and the child victims of the Aberfan disaster. His voice is, not surprisingly, shot through with a melancholy that can act homeopathically, healing the blues with its very own medicine, or just drive the listener mad. There is something relentlessly dark about his latest album, perhaps more so than in his recent work. His music should come with a health warning: open your heart at your peril.

Simpson’s artistry saves the day: he is one of Britain’s most musical guitarists, a flawless technique put at the service of rare delicacy and subtle touch. Vagrant Stanzas refers to the unattached verses that float through the folk repertoire, re-occurring in different songs. The folk tradition is a form of ancestor worship: the songs on the album, even those written in the last half century - the political ones by the likes of Leon Rosselson or Bob Dylan or the more poetical lyrics of Leonard Cohen - connect us with the history of the common people (the 'folk') and bring universally shared experience alive, not least when the events and feelings described transcend the apparent triviality of the everyday.

Simpson knows how to make the perennial immediate: he is in many ways more contemporary than many of the nu-folk trendies that grab the headlines. There is nothing antiquarian about his razor-sharp devotion to the here and now of heartfelt performance. Most of the songs on Vagrant Stanzas were recorded solo in one take. There are a few discrete overdubs, all in the service of enhancing texture and mood. “Waly Waly” a version of the Child ballad “Lord Jamie Douglas” is a high point. Few people can tell these stories with as well-judged a combination of silken tones and fiery steel, evoking the blood and terror with both passion and measure, qualities that shine through on an album which demonstrates, along with previous projects, that Simpson is one of the very best of his kind.

There is nothing antiquarian about his razor-sharp devotion to the here and now of heartfelt performance


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters