You really do get your money and time’s worth from a Martin Simpson album; there is so much variety in instruments used, musical cultures, tunes and musicians on Rooted, that it constantly surprises across thirteen tracks and fifty minutes. That said, it is clear that Martin and producer Andy Bell understand one another very well, because this is a very considerately arranged and recorded set that never feels crowded or over-loaded. Much like 2017’s Trails and Tribulations, which followed on with a fuller sound from the stripped back solo Vagrant Stanzas from 2013, Rooted takes care not to over-stuff and what we get instead are songs that celebrate music, instruments and players. In fact, Rooted feels very much like a continuation of Trail‘s journey, with Nancy Kerr prominent on the fiddle and John Smith and Andy Cutting also present, among others, but perhaps with a slightly lighter approach in parts, even when hitting on big themes.
Take ‘Born Human’, for example, written by Alaska based fisherman and conservationist David L Grimes partly in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster. Simpson plays it at quite a pace, with a banjo core and hearty backing vocals along with Kerr’s pretty fiddle line turning what could have been an itchy and anxious commentary into one that flips it and still celebrates the beauty of the world. The message remains clear and has never been more important, and the treatment of the song is spot-on in its ability to have the words jump and lodge themselves in the ear. There is no flippancy here, just a skilful and clever decision. The song follows from ‘Kimbie’, an Appalachian tune most recognised from Jackson C. Frank’s version and here played on the Martin D-28 that Frank wrote ‘The Blues Run the Game’ on, a neat link to Trails, which features the song. ‘Kimbie’ is an altogether softer piece than ‘Born Human’, with beautiful backing vocals and a lovely acoustic refrain that balances perfectly with the jauntier succeeding song [ . . . ]
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