Martin Simpson hits an introspective note in his 20th solo album Trails and Tribulations. Collecting together a variety of songs traditional and new, Simpson reflects on a traveling life, the inspiration discovered, and challenges encountered.
Simpson travels not just in subject but musically, playing a variety of guitars in a variety of styles. Trails and Tribulations also benefits from guest appearances from the likes of Nancy Kerr and Andy Cutting.
It will come as no surprise that Simpson’s musicianship is excellent. Simpson plays with an exact precision that always sound heartfelt. The fingerpicking is quick without ever feeling rushed.
Trails run throughout the album. Blues Run the Game, a cover describing the struggles of life on the road, has a certain rebellious acceptance of life’s shortcomings. Bones and Feathers, leaves a strange and lasting impression on you. There is a strange, beauty to the song’s description of a ghostly old lady who, it appears, resurrects dead birds.
Described as if he happened upon her after walking back from a gig one day, Simpson makes the fantastical subject matter seem almost plausible. You can’t help getting more drawn in on each listen imaging that this time you’ll find something new. The song haunts you as if you’re the central character of a Lovecraft novella.
A Ballad For Katherine Of Aragon, and Maps meditate on war, responsible for causing the travel of many young men. Maps is an exquisite reflection that our travel can often make us consider where we came from; the starting location defines a trip as much as a destination.
Maps leads easily into Simpson’s version of St. James Hospital, on which he meets an old comrade, close to death. It’s easy to imagine Simpson returning home to meet an old acquaintance by chance. A poignant reminder that when we leave, life at home continues without us. Jasper’s / Dancing Shoes, suggests a similar notion, pointing out that you can return from travel to find that life has left you behind.
Ridgeway brings us home reminding us that those who travel do so through the lives and homes of others, on which they still have an impact.
Trails and Tribulations is of course about tribulations along with trails. Simpson is just as effective at working tribulations into this album as he is trails. As a result, Trails and Tribulations is a heavyweight album. If it lacks anything, it is a moment of comedic relief.
Trails and Tribulations is an album that deserves more than just being bought and listened to, it deserves to be considered and mulled over. Simpson has carefully crafted an album that not only features excellent musicianship but nurtures and develops a theme. Whatever trail you follow Trails and Tribulations will stick with you.Christopher C Leslie
Released on Topic Records on 1 September 2017.
Engineered, mixed and produced by Andy Bell.
Mastered by Calum Malclom.
Ben Nicholls - string bass and electric bass guitars;
Toby Kearney - drums and percussion;
Nancy Kerr - fiddle and viola;
Andy Cutting - diatonic accordion and melodeon;
John Smith - electric guitar and backing vocals;
Helen Bell - strings;
Amy Newhouse-Smith - backing vocals;
Molly Simpson - vocals.
1. Blues Run the Game
2. Bones and Feathers
3. Thomas Drew
4. East Kentucky
5. Katherine of Aragon Interlude
6. A Ballad for Katherine of Aragon
8. St. James Hospital
9. Jasper’s / Dancing Shoes
11. Rufford Park Poachers
12. Reynardine Interlude