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Righteousness & Humidity

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Album Review

Martin Simpson might have made his reputation as a folk guitarist, but blues has been a part of him since he was young, and he plays it — as he plays everything — with both incredible technique and driving passion. And while his roots might be far from the Mississippi Delta, his heart is right there. To be fair, he can't hold a candle to the masters as a singer, but when he starts picking, everything else can go out of the window: Listen to the ragtime of "Easy Money," for example, or his slide work on "I Can't Keep From Crying," which challenges the Blind Willie Johnson original. Rick Kemp's bass offers stout support on some tracks, including Simpson originals that sit easily next to the vintage material. And it's obvious he knows that material well — his version of "The Coo Coo Bird" draws from Clarence Ashley, Hobart Smith, and John Calloway to present an interesting and heartfelt composite. He gets out of the blocks fast with a steaming version of "John Hardy," and doesn't let up until the final notes of "The Last Shot Got Him," where slide and electric guitar intertwine to rev up an old song. Simpson is a brilliant guitarist, but he also has taste; he never uses his extraordinary ability as an end in itself. Instead, he lets it serve the song, playing with commitment to the music. And that helps make this only a little short of brilliant.


Born: May 5, 1953 in Scunthorpe, England

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Martin Simpson is one of the most visible examples of the relationship between the Celtic folk of the United Kingdom and American musics such as country and the blues, which branched away from their British sources as American immigrants became distant from their past countrymen. Simpson's life charts a similar journey -- one of the most technically gifted guitarists alive in the 2000s, he was born in South Humberside, England, but moved to the United States in the late '80s (after recording several...
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Righteousness & Humidity, Martin Simpson
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