Martin Simpson – Trails and Tribulations
Albums used to be landmarks around which years and lives orbited. They’re now throwaway – launched to remind us that an artist is still, just, breathing to bolster tour ticket sales; they last a week in the cultural consciousness, and spawn two streamed singles that you skip past whenever they come up on your playlist.
Thank the heavens and Scunthorpe for Martin Simpson, then. Having defined how good one man with an acoustic guitar can sound on 2103’s Vagrant Stanzas; he’s surpassed himself with Trails and Tribulations. Although the man and his playing is still front and centre throughout, there’s a rich sympathetic ensemble sound to this album that only comes from great musicians at the peak of their powers playing together. Blues Runs The Game may be Simpson’s Hendrix moment – the point where a cover emerges that’s more iconic than the original classic; and Bones and Feathers contrasts rich texture with eerie angularity to stunning effect, but whether it’s a reworking of The Rufford Park Poachers or the wistful melancholy of Dancing Shoes this is throughout the work of an essential artist who continues to operate at a rarefied level.