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MARTIN SIMPSON - Prodigal Son

MARTIN SIMPSON - Prodigal Son
Topic TSCD567

Given Martin’s respected and unchallenged status as expert guitarist, captivating singer and unfailingly intelligent interpreter of song, any new CD he brings out is unlikely to disappoint. The latest, the characteristically eclectic Prodigal Son, could be viewed as cementing Martin’s decision (around five years ago) to return to live in the UK, being a further inspirational collection of music that demonstrates Martin’s unique take on the musical heritage of Britain and America. Though recorded entirely within the studio, Prodigal Son is a well-planned and credibly sequenced set that fully communicates the intimacy and spellbinding nature of Martin’s live performances, wherein he moves effortlessly from deep oldtime roots (eg. Pretty Crowing Chicken) to big ballads Scottish (Andrew Lammie) and American (Duncan And Brady) via some deceptively virtuoso instrumental pieces.

Scattered exceedingly modestly amongst these delights, we find a handful of Martin’s own compositions, songs and instrumentals; these (which form highlights among a disc full of high points) are for the most part both highly poignant and personal in nature. A Love Letter might almost be considered the disc’s emotional centrepiece, while two of the guitar pieces (She Slips Away and Mother Love) are unbelievably tender and moving. At the other end of the emotional spectrum there’s the fiendishly tricky but beautifully managed little quasi-Bourée La Rivolta which, though it lasts barely two minutes, is far classier than to be regarded as a mere light relief interlude. Although the disc’s every bar is infused with Martin’s own musical identity, he nevertheless enjoys some superbly supportive guest contributions, principally from Andy Cutting’s accordion, Barry Phillips’ cello and Danny Thompson’s bass (which together give many tracks a distinctive signature, thoughtful and mellow), and Alistair Anderson’s concertina (and Northumbrian pipes at a significant point during Andrew Lammie).

There are incidental delights, too, in backing vocals from Kellie While (on Batchelor’s Hall, a kind of Pretty Saro paraphrase), Kate Rusby (on Martin’s own touchingly honest Never Any Good, written after a conversation with his brother Simon) and Jackson Browne (on a heavy-with-contemporary-resonance revisit of Randy Newman’s Louisiana 1927, which Martin had first recorded on his debut LP in 1976!). Having said that, Martin continues to impress on solo outings like a superb version of The Granemore Hare (where the decorated vocal and guitar lines stunningly mirror each other in almost sean nós fashion) and a freshly immediate, tumblingly eager rendition of Little Musgrave. This excellent, admirably artisan CD will be manna to the converted, naturally, but for other purchasers it’s also likely to provide a impetus for further exploration both of the actual material performed and of Martin’s illustrious and extensive back-catalogue – not to mention garnering a crop of awards along the way I’m sure.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 75 of The Living Tradition magazine.