Simpson Cutting Kerr: Murmurs
Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr are three of the most important musicians on the English folk and traditional music scene. This year they got together to tour as a trio and will be off on their travels again in September. This studio album is the result of their collaboration and it contains a fairly evenly distributed number of traditional songs and tunes alongside some originals contributed by each member.
It’s obvious right from the start that this is going to be something special. The opening track ‘Dark Swift and Bright Swallow’ is a wonderful song by Martin Simpson which just floats along effortlessly with Simpson’s vocal and guitar matched superbly with Andy Cutting’s diatonic accordion and Nancy Kerr’s fiddle as the singer blends his sighting of the first swallow of the year with the true story of a wartime disaster in Devon.
The new songs frequently touch on concerns to do with government, ecology and the environment: Nancy Kerr’s ‘Not Even the Ground’ is concerned with the practice of fracking while another Simpson composition ‘Toy Soldiers’ is about the senseless destruction of nature and wildlife. In addressing such issues they are following in a long folk tradition of songs of the people.
Most importantly, the new songs sit very well with the traditional pieces and the album as a whole is a seamless entity. While the lyrics may often be discontent the interplay of the musicians draws the listener into a constant stream of pleasure. With these three involved the quality of the playing goes without saying but Simpson and Kerr are both fine singers too and their contrasting vocal styles add great variety to the album.
They also draw on sources from North America as well as England. Simpson learned ‘Fair Rosamund’ from a 1965 recording by the great Appalachian singer and banjo player Hedy West. How good it is to learn from his notes that Hedy West remains one of the most important musicians of Simpson’s life. He contributes some lovely 5-string banjo of his own to Kerr’s outstanding ‘Dark Honey’ and she returns the favour with sensitive fiddle on his ‘Toy Soldiers’. Best of the traditional songs is ‘The Plains of Waterloo’ an epic ballad collected in Ottawa, Canada, while the album concludes with a thoughtful version of Lal Waterson’s ‘Some Old Salty’. Murmurs must be a strong contender for UK roots album of the year.
Murmurs is released by Topic Records.
This is a video of the rehearsal for the recording of ‘Some Old Salty’: