Sunday, February 17, 2013

SIMO - Great Debut Album, A Glorious Noise

J. D. Simo has figured it out. A perfectly wonderful guitarist/singer/songwriter, Simo did the smart thing, and managed to hook up with a rhythm section which is his equal, and they make what I call 'a glorious noise.'

SIMO is their debut album, and it's a very auspicious birth. It's going to get called things like retro, '60s,  this that and the other, and deservedly so, but it's really just great rock, played by a cool bunch. Together a little more than a year, they've been unleashing their hard rock fury over audiences, and garnering a great deal of attention along the way.

Straight out of the box they evoke the halcyon tones of the best of the sixties - Aoh is a driving rock and roller that barrels along like a freight train. Produced by bassist Frank Swart at Fry Pharmacy in Nashville, and he got it just right. It's raw as raw gets, and the mix is great - the rhythm section is front and center, leaving Simo to weave his magic over the top like a surfer riding a torpedo. He manages to stay on top, and it attests to his power as a singer and player. Swart and drummer Adam Abrashoff are a hyperkinetic coupling who never back down. They take Simo's Yardbirdsian intro and go off into an experiential ride down the best side of another era. I can throw all kinds of cliches at this, and they wear them very well. These fellas play like they mean it - no pretense, just great and obvious rock and roll.

Shake It is the album's first single, and it's not an obvious choice, but what the hell is a single now anyway - Simo's vocal is piped through a wash of grind, and it has a great garage groove, but garage bands generally couldn't play this well. That's the biggest difference between the American garage scene of the '60s and the truly great bands of that era - like this bunch, they could play. Simo isn't a techie shredder, he's more along the lines of gutsy hard rock, filled with verve and passion.

Dynamics play big here, and it's great to hear them passing around the lead - Abrashoff is a pounder who has enough finesse to sound right - not the quantized crap you hear on most computer soaked metal and rock, but more like someone who loves to play the drums like a musical instrument. Swart dances in between Simo and Adam's aggression with some very melodic swoops and swoons and a nice round tone that never clashes with the guitarist's brighter Marshall tones. When J. D. cranks up his wah pedal towards the end, Swart climbs dizzily up his neck, and they sound perfect together. Yes, a glorious noise. If you didn't know it, you'd never know Fool For You was a Curtis Mayfield tune - they own it on this cover.

They segue right into Young Man, Old Man and it's a gentle acoustic intro that will bring to mind The Who circa Tommy, or maybe Stevie Winwood - Simo has assimilated the era, and I'm not certain that he hasn't simply time traveled to the now to screw with us. Damned glad he did. And I'm glad he brought Swart and Abrashoff - they turn this acoustic intro into a fiery rock exhibition. This is big room rock - born to be played in large rooms to religiously fervent fans of real rock. The end of this song is transcendent - it would be great in any era, but I feel like it's never been so necessary as now.

Clementia's Lament is born in one of Dante's hells, then is soon lifted by some Mid-Eastern rhythms from Simo's right hand, and Swart's brutal bass. They seldom play lockstep, but they know when to, and that makes all the difference. Simo's solo is psychotically beautiful, and it winds into a very melodic section that suggests the wistful melodic abilities of Eric Carmen's best works. Look him up if you don't know him, fer crissakes. Have I mentioned that this is a glorious fucking noise? Great rock peaks out from under the mush, the mire, and these sad times.

Then it's off and into a slow blues that is Greeny approved. This is almost too period correct, and while I may have opted for a cleaner vocal, I will admit to being a very picky bastard, and it ain't my record, right? They do nail it - the rhythm section s loosely leaden, and Simo is a masterful axeman, who can't be faulted. Abrashoff is one of the few drummers I've heard in a while who really gets cymbals - his punctuation is sublime. What's On Your Mind then gently waltzes out with a beautiful bit of nylon picking - nice. Maybe that's Peter Green's requiem.

Simo rarely seems to use any effects save for his wah pedal and on The Same Thing he gives a university level dissertation on its use. While the rhythm section plays a big burlesque, Simo dances elegantly into the stratosphere with some big cat moans. He also whips out some great psychedelic slide work that both Jimi and Jimmy would approve. Towards the end he goes into a nice skronk that let's us catch our breath before the big end. Yup, a goddamned glorious noise.

Thank You Tony Jones is a fabulous wind-up that has me guessing that Tony Jones implies Elvin and Mr. Williams. The rockingest drum solo song since Moby Dick.

Evil - that's how it ends, and damned if it's not. Howlin' Wolf knew this was going to happen, believe me. He may have grumbled about rock, but there's no way he would not have dug this. It's the big LZ finish, and SIMO has killed it - they've made a record that is at once nostalgic, and immediate. I hope this catches on as well as it should - we need some big rock bands who realize there ain't no shame in growing from the blues into something more glorious. I was told this week that one of this era's biggest blues rockers was embarrassed by rocking out on a big stage with a rock band. And that's a goddamned shame - the only reason the blues guys didn't sound like this was the equipment just wasn't there yet. They would have loved this - it's a glorious noise.

Don't be afraid of the rock - it shall set you free.

Thanks to Jason Barr at Revival Photography/Elliott Guitars for hipping me to this bunch!

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