'Purpose + Grace' marks a bold and confident step for Simpson. The wide-ranging repertoire and exemplary performances he has coaxed from his fellow performers make this his finest recording to date. 'Purpose + Grace' takes its very apposite title from the great American songwriter Yip Harburg (composer of 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow', 'Brother Can You Spare A Dime' and 'Only A Paper Moon') 8232;"I am one of the last of a small tribe of troubadours who still believe that life is a beautiful and exciting journey with a purpose and grace well worth singing about." The album marks a bold and confident step for Simpson. Building upon the strengths of 'Prodigal Son and 'True Stories', like a movie producer, he conceived the whole project over a number of months and then invited some of his favourite musicians to bring their stellar talents to the recording sessions. Jon Boden, B J Cole, Dick Gaughan, Fay Hield, Will Pound, June Tabor and Richard Thompson join Martin's regular band Andy Cutting, Andy Seward and Keith Angel on an exemplary series of performances. The material shifts from Anglo-American ballads, Scots and English traditional songs to new compositions from Bruce Springsteen, Richard Thompson, the aforementioned Yip Harburg and Martin Simpson. Central to the whole project is a new Simpson composition based upon the words of Banjo Bill Cornett of Hindman, Kentucky, from a 1958 home recording. Cornett makes a heartfelt exposition of the beauty and purpose of traditional music-making: "This is Banjo Bill Cornett, I'm at home today, thirteenth day of February 1958. Here by myself, nobody but me around and that's when I usually play the banjo and sing and whatever. My children grew up, and they fell for this rock'n'roll music honky tonk music whatever you might call it. I don't like that and I catch them all gone, my wife gone and then I carry on to suit my own self and I'm a making this record to give somebody I don't know who I'll give this recording to, I want to give it to someone who will keep it and if there's any people after I'm gone who'd like to hear my carrying on as far as my singing and banjo playing is concerned, I'd like them to keep it." "Simpson's Indian Summer roars on" Colin Irwin Mojo ****
One of the most impressive things about Martin Simpson's Indian summer is his willingness to keep ringing the changes and refuse to settle for a winning formula. Decorated with awards for his previous two albums, Prodigal Son and True Stories - both of which broke new ground for him and were, in their own ways, strikingly different - the great guitar and banjo stylist moves on again.
In many ways this is a risky, maybe even foolhardy project. Anyone who invites singers of the calibre of Dick Gaughan, June Tabor and Fay Hield to not only contribute, but take lead vocals (respectively on Jamie Foyers, Strange Affair and Bad Girl's Lament) is taking a serious gamble. Even one fleeting cameo from Tabor alone will usually find her walking off with all the plaudits.
Simpson, a Tabor collaborator of old, is justly acclaimed for his guitar arrangements. He clearly takes as much joy and pride in playing his sensitive accompaniments as he does simply sitting in the middle of a roaring band cooking up belting versions of Little Liza Jane and a Cajun take on Lakes of Pontchartrain.
Simpson's love of banjo is prevalent throughout (he plays the late Mike Waterson's restored old instrument on Don't Leave Your Banjo in the Shed Mr Waterson), while the great pedal steel player BJ Cole and accordion maestro Andy Cutting are also prominent. Curve balls include a terrific duet with Gaughan on Brother Can You Spare a Dime and a stirring version of Bruce Springsteen's Brothers Under the Bridge, including a short burst of Richard Thompson on electric guitar.
There are a couple of big solo tracks, Bold General Wolfe and Barbry Allen - Simpson's lovely slide guitar lifting the gloom of one of the most hackneyed songs in the folk firmament - while the album's fluctuating moods are underlined by an unusually mournful treatment of In the Pines. In complete contrast, Simpson's only original song in the set, Banjo Bill, is a lovely tribute to a relatively obscure Kentucky mountain musician Bill Cornett.
An album of great love and joy, Purpose + Grace confirms that Simpson remains at the top of his game.
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