Martin Simpson’s latest album, Purpose + Grace, is in many ways the epiphany of his career. Martin has never chosen the shortest root to stardom but the choices he has made along the way have made him the exceptional talent that he is today. He released his first album in 1976 and made such an impression that he was opening for some of the biggest names around. Instead of carrying on as a solo act he decided to be an accompaniest for June Tabor for ten years and they released A Cut Above in 1980 on Topic, a label he has remained with since.
Now, almost forty years after his debut release, Purpose + Grace finds Martin reflecting, celebrating and honouring our musical ancestors which he does in grand style. He calls on a plethora of fine artists to join him including Dick Gaughan, June Tabor, Richard Thompson, Jon Boden, Fay Hield, Andy Cutting and Will Pound. The theme of celebration and collaboration is not one taken lightly, there is just one new song on the album: Banjo Bill; a tribute to Banjo Bill Cornett of Hindman, Kentucky. Martin based the words upon an album that was released 44 years after it was recorded by John Cohen on which Bill spoke about the whole the process of recording and his passion and belief in the songs and music. He was untrusting of the folklorist music collectors of his time. The songs had become a big part of his life very much in the same way that the songs on this album have become part of Martin Simpson’s.
The album spans traditional writers to the more modern including Bruce Springsteen and Richard Thompson. The inclusion of Springsteen’s Brothers Under the Bridge came about through Martin wanting to write a song for some Californian friends who are Vietnam Vets, he states “it’s a very hard subject to deal with and until I get my song finished I will continue to love and sing Brothers Under the Bridge“. He re-vists Richard Thompson’s Strange Affair which featured on A Cut Above and the impact of the song is no less stunning then it was back in 1980!
There are many great moments on the album and one of the most moving is Brother Can You Spare a Dime, a very fitting song for today. Martin is joined by Dick Gaughan who throws his whole spirit into the song. The album has it’s fun moments when the pace picks up on Little Liza Jane and The Lakes of Ponchartrain on which Will Pound plays some great harmonica. There is a wonderful tribute to Mike Waterson on the instrumental Don’t Leave Your Banjo in the Shed Mr Waterson and he plays some stunning guitar on a personal Leadbelly favourite In the Pines. The inclusion of Fay Hield was a great choice, the combination of Martin’s guitar, Fay’s atmospheric voice and Jon Boden’s haunting fiddle make it a an exceptional track.
The breadth of this album makes it a joy to listen to, I’d be very hard pushed to choose a favourite but there is no doubt in my mind that it is a five star classic album!
You can preview the whole album on Folk Radio UK for one week (see below), it is released on 5th Setember through Topic.
Full Album Preview
The full album preview is now over.
1 The Sheffield Apprentice
2 Bold General Wolfe
3 Brothers Under The Bridge
4 Little Liza Jane
5 Brother Can You Spare A Dime
6 Jamie Foyers
7 In The Pines
8 Strange Affair
9 Banjo Bill
10 Barbry Allen
11 Don’t Put Your Banjo In The Shed Mr Waterson
12 Bad Girl’s Lament
13 Lakes Of Ponchartrain