Red House Records
PO Box 4044
St. Paul, MN 55104
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Rick Russell
Two summers ago, my wife and I attended a mini folk festival at Mammoths Lakes, CA. Being huge Greg Brown fans, his headlining of the concerts was what brought us there. What we came away talking about the next day, however, was the performance by Martin & Jessica Ruby Simpson and the Band Of Angels. The Band Of Angels CD, released in 1996, reflects very accurately the virtuoso guitar work of Martin Simpson, the haunting vocals of his wife Jessica Ruby, and the superior musicianship of their band of angels: Barry Phillips, Alisa Fineman, Kimball Hurd, and Lisa Ekstrom. It also manages to give the listener a sense of the fun that these folks have playing together.
Martin Simpson comes out of the British folk scene that also produced Richard Thompson. Over the years he has put out blues, folk, and gospel albums which have all focused on his guitar wizardry. With his Band Of Angels project, he shows just how generous of a musician he is by letting the focus be on the songwriting talents of Jessica Ruby and the ensemble musicianship of the Band Of Angels. Though his guitar work is at the foundation of this CD, the focus is on the band. Especially impressive to me was the beautiful mandolin work by Kimball Hurd on the song Rolling Down the Hill.
There are 13 songs on the CD, and it clocks in at about 65 minutes. Songs range in style from a Hebrew love song, Erev Shel Shoshanim, sung by Alisa Fineman to the topical Kevin Carter, a song written by Jessica Ruby about a photographer who commits suicide in South Africa after observing the faces of war. Six of the 13 songs were written by Jessica Ruby, and these songs have more of a contemporary feel to them. They deal with subjects which most of us can identify with: love and security in Come To Light, being on your own in a strange place in Kindness Of Strangers, and the seeming hopelessness for those growing up in less than healthy circumstances in Lillies Of The Field.
If there is a weak spot on the album it would have to be Le Petit Mercelot/Le Boiteaux, a medley of a traditional tune and a song written by Michel Le Cam. They are done beautifully, but they are in French with no lyric translation. Being a person who listens to music for the stories as well as the music, I found this to be frustrating for me. For those who don't mind this kind of thing, you will find it to be a very nice diversion from the rest of the CD. I consider this a very minor complaint on an album that blends the best of British traditional folk and contemporary American folk styles.
For those of you who enjoy this album, check out Martin & Jessica Ruby Simpson's CD from 1995, Red Roses. You may also enjoy Alisa Fineman's solo CD, Better With Time. Both of these are available on Thunderbird Records.
Edited by Paula Gregorowicz