Singer, songwriter and guitarist Martin Simpson needs no introduction. The most nominated individual in the history of the BBC Folk Awards, Simpson is well known as an outstanding writer and musician. He had planned for his next album to be a live one, but a global pandemic put paid to that. Unable to perform or head into a studio, Simpson began to revisit and revise songs he had been playing for years. He has said that the absence of a live audience added a new level of intimacy to the process, and he spent long months repeating and finessing arrangements. The aptly named ‘Home Recordings’ is the ultimate result of this process, and it is a delight.
The record has a great range of material on it, from more traditional romping story songs like ‘Admiral Benbow‘ to Old Time infused tunes such as ‘Lonesome Valley Geese‘. The latter was recorded on the porch of Simpson’s peak district home, and the eponymous geese can be heard flying overhead in the recording.
In addition to Simpson’s originals and arrangements of traditional material, there are some wonderful covers. The late John Prine’s ‘Angel From Montgomery‘ is a particular highlight; Prine died in April and Simpson has said he spent time playing for him at home. Clearly the songs he has chosen to cover on the record are deeply meaningful to him. As well as ‘Angel From Montgomery‘, some standouts are Lyle Lovett’s ‘Family Reserve‘, which opens the album, and Dylan’s ever-relevant ‘The Times They Are A-Changin”. None of these cover versions feel self-indulgent or frivolous, they have been trimmed down and, as Simpson has said, finessed, to a joyful end.
Simpson brings his usual strengths, and considerable talents, to bear on an intimate and playful record which is a pleasant listen. There is nothing mind-blowing about ‘Home Recordings’, but there doesn’t have to be. It’s a window into a moment in Simpson’s life that was filled with reflection, melancholy and, ultimately, peace. All this has bled over and blended wonderfully into the recordings.