Over the last few years we’ve seen a number of musicians taking the stripped-down approach to recording. fRoots even mentioned a “New Wave of Folk Blokes”, pointing to the fact that a number of these albums seemed to be men with acoustic guitars and a bag full of traditional songs, harking back to the troubadour tradition that found a home at Les Cousins in the late 60s.
Of course, some of those veteran troubadours never went away. Although he belongs to the generation of guitarists that followed the Les Cousins crowd, Martin Simpson has been one of the leading exponents of that style since before most of the latest crop were born. Jack Rutter and Nick Hart deserve all the plaudits they receive – I’m a huge fan of the recordings they’ve both made – but they’re merely the latest members of a club that must count Martins Simpson and Carthy as join chairpersons.
In a career that spans several decades, this particular Martin has made more stripped-down recordings than most, so his latest collection isn’t all that surprising when viewed in those terms. As several other reviewers have pointed out, however, it’s the intimacy of this collection that really strikes (no pun intended) home.
Home Recordings does what it says on the tin. It was recorded at home in Sheffield during lockdown. You can hear the sounds of his front room and his back garden. As such, it’s aurally quite different from a typical Martin Simpson record. In the past, there has been a sumptuousness to his recordings, whether he’s had killer backing musicians with him or not. That’s not the case here. Sure, the sumptuousness is there in the playing, but the sound is quite brittle. It’s right there in your face (or ears), as though the man himself was sitting right in front of you in his living room with all the acoustic limitations that such a setting would bring.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a negative thing. Quite aside from the obvious fact that having Martin play in front of you in his living room would be an exquisite treat, I love recordings that take you out of the studio and put you somewhere else, warts and all. Some call it intimacy, but in this case I’d call it honesty. It takes a very talented musician indeed to hold your attention over 14 tracks with no studio trickery to hide behind, and (let’s face it) there are fewer more talented musicians on the folk scene than Martin Simpson.
I’ve already written a lot in recent weeks about people providing me with inspiration over the course of the last 12 months. Anyone who has heard the music I record myself will be able to tell instantly that Martin Simpson has provided me with a lifetime’s worth. He hasn’t let up this time, either. In fact, speaking as someone who was put into the aforementioned “New Wave of Folk Blokes” basket, I can tell you that Home Recordings merely serves to show the rest of us how’s it’s done. It’s as though he’s saying, “Yes, yes, we can all record things in intimate, scratchy settings, but you still have to be able to produce the goods.” It’s something to aspire to – something that makes me want to work harder and practice more religiously. And as such, if I had such an accolade to give, I’d say this is the Best Guitar Record of 2020.