(Released on Self-Portrait Records)


SEVERAL albums into his career, Simon Kempston remains a beguiling talent, his poetic, expressive songs weaving around his impressively fluid acoustic guitar work. Entire worlds are compressed into his songs: For We’ll Not Meet Again, the second track here, about “two sons of Satan” who have now gone their separate ways having "led a life of crime and not one of God", reads like a compressed Western short story.

There are many similarly beautifully crafted songs on the album, full of arresting imagery: Impunity, about a man torn to shreds by the gutter press after falling into a honeytrap; the performer stricken by nerves and stage-fright, on What Good Could He Do?; the hapless building-site worker desperately trying to stay afloat on The Pauper’s Payday ("he's hurting, he's fighting/ a system so divisive/He's searching, he's frightened/there's no way he'll survive". Is he here, perhaps, illegally? "Fear of discovery an everyday threat/no network of contacts in place".

A Tale of Two Unions, meanwhile, is an assault on what Kempston terms Scotland's "tainted alliance" with an England that "took our North Sea oil ... took Willie MacRae/built Trident on our soil ... We no longer recognise you or share a common cause". It's of a piece with, if less optimistic than, A Better Place for All, one of the stand-out tracks from Kempston's 2016 album, Vanishing Act; there,Kempston, looking at a Scotland after the 2014 independence referendum, hoped that left and right would unite "to make this country/a better place for all".

Notable throughout is Kempston’s fingerpicked guitar, supported by subtle piano, fiddle, percussion, electric guitars and double-bass from, respectively, N.D. Martin, Kirsty Miller, Rory MacDonald, Lars Rune Rebbestad and Bob Miller. As with Kempston’s previous works, You Can’t Win Every Time is an album that gives up its secrets slowly but repays repeated listenings.

He is, incidentally, now hitting the road with the new album, on what will be his 12th European tour. It began in Switzerland a few days ago and will see him travelling until early December. There will be a handful of English dates in England in December then February, before he returns to the Continental circuit. Catch him on his next Scottish gig.