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Martin Simpson
True Stories
Review By Steven Stone
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  On True Stories Martin Simpson seems bound and determined to change his well-deserved reputation as a guitar God. It's not that the picking on his latest Compass Records release isn't up to par, but the emphasis here is more on vocals and his unique rhythmic interpretations than on guitar playing.

Simpson's first album was released in 1976, a black vinyl LP called Golden Vanity. After nearly a decade of working with June Tabor he moved to the United States in 1987. Since then he has released ten albums including Cool and Unusual in 1997, The Bramble Bear in 2001, Righteousness and Humidity in 2003, and Prodigal Son in 2007. True Stories continues the direction begun by Prodigal Son, pushing the boundaries between genres into a unique space that can only be defined as Martin Simpson music.

Although his reference bio refers to Simpson as "English folk singer" and he certainly went through the process of playing and digesting the traditional British folk repertoire, what you'll find on True Stories is a mash-up of multiple folk traditions. The opening tune, "Look Up Look Down," features a reverb-laden electric guitar part that works in counterpoint to the New Orleans second-line drum line. Behind these two strong rhythmic engines Simpson floats a wash of accordion, peddle steel and multiple background vocal tracks.  The often-recorded traditional song "Wind and Rain" uses accordion and guitar in unison to establish its essential melody line, but they also establish a far quirkier, more drag-leg rhythm than you'll hear on anyone else's version of this old chestnut. The song's last minute consists of a long coda of slide guitar and hurdy gurdy, like a puff of smoke left after a satisfying pyrotechnics display.

Joined by a short list of great musicians, including Danny Thompson on bass, Andy Cutting on accordion, and Muireann Nic Amhlaolbh on backing vocals, Simpson adds all the acoustic and electric guitar, dobro, banjola, five-string banjo, and lead vocals. Although some of the tracks feature fairly dense orchestrations and multiple electric guitar parts, overall the album has a Spartan and acoustic feel that holds true to Simpson's folk roots. Co-produced by Simpson and recording engineer Andy Seward, True Stories and recorded at Greystones Studio in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, True Stories proves that in the right hands "English" folk music remains as vibrant today as when it was first created in some dark back room at the beginnings of human history.

 

 

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