Many artists have produced lockdown albums this year utilising whatever resources they could muster. Martin Simpson, it seems, took a more leisurely approach, at one point returning to the finger-pick banjo style he abandoned many years ago. And he practised as he always has – he once said that every time you pick up your instrument you should try to do something you haven’t done before. From all this emerged Home Recordings which I now declare to be the first second wave album.
Martin’s fans will recognise some of the tracks, although might be exercised if asked where they first appeared in the Simpson oeuvre. There is a sense of fun and “why not?” about Home Recordings, particularly the instrumental vignettes, but this is a serious album and one which slips on like a comfortable pair of slippers. It starts out in a wryly serious vein with Lyle Lovett’s ‘Family Reserve’, which Martin hasn’t recorded before and I can only ask “why not?”. It suits him perfectly as he relates the stories of Lovett’s ghosts and slides over the awkward scansion of the second verse.
The chuckle at the end of the banjo tune, ‘Lonesome Valley Geese’ tells us that Martin is having fun just like the geese in the background. He tacks ‘Don’t Put Your Banjo In The Shed Mr Waterson’ onto ‘3 Day Millionaire’ for a banjo tribute to Mike and sings ‘October Song’ just because he can. ‘Delia’ came from Reverend Gary Davis and you can find Martin’s original version if you look hard enough. ‘Wren Variations’ is based on ‘The Cutty Wren’ and you can find the original on Earthed In Cloud Valley but it will cost you.
Other old favourites are ‘An Englishman Abroad’, ‘Admiral Benbow’ and ‘House Carpenter’ and to these Martin adds John Prine’s ‘Angel From Montgomery’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’. The latter can become a dirge but he never lets it drag and I suspect that the album’s dedication to Greta Thunberg may be inspired by this song.
Martin is solo throughout except for some sparingly used backing vocals and the sound of Home Recordings somehow takes me back to when I first heard him playing as support to Steeleye Span in the early 70s. I think this record will be close to hand for quite some time.
Artist’s website: www.martinsimpson.com
‘The Times They Are A-Changin”: