Simon Kempston – Carefree Prisoner (Self-Portrait Records)
There’s a lightness of touch to this vocal delivery that instantly brings Nick Drake to mind – but that’s where any easy comparisons begin and end. This collection of 12 songs penned by the classically trained Dundonian – delicately beautiful melodies, strikingly politicised lyrics – is transformed by Adam Nash’s arrangements which set Kempston’s voice and intricately picked guitar against finely woven backdrops of violin and cello. Sometimes the strings push the songs in the direction of Celtic folk music (the luscious ..Galway..); sometimes they have the driving force of a small chamber group tackling the work of Steve Reich or Philip Glass (Ladies’ Lookout, Mad Dog). Percussion remains minimal, only really coming to the fore to provide a heartbeat for the rousing Barricade and the military tautness of The Bleeding Mile. The result is so unique, so consistent, so complete that Carefree Prisoner sounds more like a unified song cycle than what normally passes for a singer-songwriter’s latest album.