An Unassuming Title – But Untold Riches Lie Behind the Front Door.
Those of us who follow Martin Simpson on Facebook have enjoyed regular performances from his back yard during the current pandemic, (when the weather was better) and he’s clearly been busy when not under the umbrella, battling with the Yorkshire winds.
As he states in his liner-notes
“No gigs, no travel, lots of time. Time to focus and to reflect and time to practise”
the result of that is a collection of influential and pertinent covers, traditional reworkings, originals revisited and snapshots of life and music during lockdown – it’s a fascinating aural diary of a specific point in time – and their connection to other points in time.
“Family Reserve” opens things, a Lyle Lovett cover and the warm-close mic-ed guitar and refrain of
“we’re all going to be here for ever”
is a glowing introduction to the world of the collection. This is followed by one of the few tracks that have a contribution from none other than Mr Simpson himself (son Max and friend Amy Smith are occasionally on backing vocals elsewhere) – a cyclical banjo riff played outdoors and captured on a phone, is punctuated by percussive call and response from some passing geese – not surprisingly giving the song its title “Lonesome Valley Geese” – this harmonious synchronicity of made and found music is also present on the album-ending-also-phone -recorded “March 22nd,” where birds accompany resonant and melodious (and all-too-short) picking. Recently Kitty MacFarlane has used birds and other samples on her recordings as musical accompaniment, but here it’s a live performance – and it’s lovely.
Elsewhere, there are tributes – the banjoified “3 Day Millionaire/Don’t Put Your Banjo in the Shed Mr Waterson” and “Angel from Montgomery” are both respectful and thoughtful nods to not just friends in person but friends in spirit too.
There are also songs where Mr Simpson the technician, has had time to deconstruct and rebuild older tunes – the creepy “House Carpenter” being one and the tragically beautiful “Delia” too.
“Augmented Unison” (named after two notes a semitone apart – very meta) and the complex “The Plains of Waterloo” – on all of these, the liner notes provide fantastic technical insight to not only how the songs work structurally and emotionally, but how (Folk) music is a shifting and evolving thing and that Tradition is never static.
That’s the “time to think” box ticked.
Just before the aforementioned “March 22nd” there’s a cover of “The Times They are a Changin’” which is appropriate in so many ways today -politically, socially, emotionally, personally and musically.
Simpson’s arrangement features a bright rolling and thwacked guitar which sounds like Nic Jones on speed – it gives the song an urgency which explodes on the final chord, before juxtaposing with the reminder of constant nature – constant, wonderful nature – on “March 22nd”.
This collection, despite its variances in recording conditions and situations (drawn together and produced admirably by neighbour Andy Bell) works really well as a whole – for those unfamiliar with Martin Simpson’s work, I also feel it’s also an excellent starting point as a primer from which the listener can start to take a journey down the many musical roads he inhabits.
“Home Recordings” is an unassuming title – but untold riches lie behind the front door.
Wipe your feet and come on in….
Review by Nick Barber
released November 13th 2020
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