When I hear the phrase ‘psychedelic soul’ being used to describe a band’s music, it makes me apprehensive, to say the least…it could be the Hendrix sort of soul which is good, or it could be the cloying seventies soul wrapped up in phased guitar. That label was attached by the press to a band called Simo who had a couple of albums out on the prestigious Mascot label which meant I was prepared to give them a try. Let Love Show The Way and follow up, Rise and Shine revealed a commendable mix of blues, rock, soul and, because of their extended jamming abilities a hint of free form jazz. The leader of the band was J D Simo and he showed an uncanny ability on the guitar that meant those albums went on repeat, including the tracks that went too soul for my normal tastes, such was his control and fluency. He also has a refreshing (and accurate) way of describing what the blues means to him and the following quote sums up his approach to life and music…”There isn’t a single way to express the blues, thank God. You can be joyful or plaintive, all in the same song. And there are always two sides of me when I play because I’m eternally obsessed with both. There’s my love for obscure black music from the Forties and Fifties, and how I choose to relate to them. There’s also my trippy, psychedelic side, the possibilities that the Dead and the Allmans present, or where John McLaughlin points me on Bitches Brew.” He also appeared on the brilliantly titled Dr. Awesome’s Fully Vaccinated Space Jazz Orchestra with two tracks only…each over twenty minutes of freeform jazzy rockiness that emerged from, as the title suggests, the pandemic period. Please use the search facility to find past reviews and interviews here on Bluesdoodles.
The good news is that JD has a new solo album out called Mind Control with ten tracks (one very sweary!) of the unique take on blues that is always guaranteed when you see his name on the cover…the cover art has the purposely rough drawing of (I guess) a pirates skull which also promises much. The album, inevitably, began gestation during lockdown: “Like everyone else, I was unprepared as to how to deal with this new ‘normal’,” he states, “so I turned to the thing that always helps me: music. I just started playing, opening up my socials and jammed. From that, the album was born.”
Bluesdoodles rating: 5 Doodle Paws – a stupendous album that will divide and then conquer. Full of freeform, yet carefully crafted, fret wizardry and, after a couple of listens, it makes total sense and will rapidly become one of your most repeated guitar albums.
The influences brought to bear in the studio also give a glimpse into the complex birth of this complex album: Junior Kimbrough, RL Burnside and Asie Payton, Fela Kuti and Tony Allen, the psychedelia of Captain Beefheart, Funkadelic and Jimi Hendrix, the blues of John Lee Hooker, Earl Hooker and Lightnin’ Hopkins, and the rock of The Stooges and Nirvana…a helluva list that still doesn’t fully prepare you for what leaps out of the speakers and bores into your brain.
Opening with a very clever drum piece and a simple, effective bassline, Go Away Satan, then brings in the psyche guitar sounds and a vocal approach suited to the title…the guitar work injects funk, blues, soul and psyche into a wholesome whole as well as great use of the pedalboard…the solo is free-ranging with a random structure(!) and absolutely stunning.
I’m In Love, brings the heavier, slower blues to the fore with a simple riff and lots of clever phrasing overdubbed with the spoken and sung ‘harmony’ working well too..think how Hendrix covering Kossoff would sound and you’re nearly there. Another freeform solo has me wishing it would never end as JD uses every string, fret and pick up over a subtle but spot-on bass and drum rhythm.
Let Go has fuzzed up riffing with slide highlights as more blues-based funky psychedelia coalesces into the third superb track…JD saying “I just let go baby” heralds an absolutely superb slide piece that has only one fault: you guessed, it’s way too short. A more subtle start to the Creamy track, Know It All: slower, sexier and, over classy bass and drums, the guitar sings a soundtrack that ranges from Morricone through Hendrix to Clapton but remains firmly Simo.
Captivating is the only word my febrile mind can come up with. Dirty blues playing brings us to Want What I Don’t Have: more great bass as JD seems to make it up as he goes along with purposely hesitant picking and it is excellent…just listen to how he can make one note say so much, be it with sustain, bend or his unique attack and the closing section with the bass causing the snare to hiss is realistic and lovely. That’s When You Know That You’re Down is psyche loveliness with a touch of freeform Miles Davis in its looseness: it verges on atonal, but it still works and, after a couple of listens, it makes perfect sense and is like a live jam of the kind that Blue Cheer were so good at.
Next is the sweary track (or as my spellchecker insists ‘sweaty’) called without subtlety or apology, Fucked Up: this is a brave blend of funk, grunge, rock and blues and the title when it occurs in the chorus, is almost gospel…now blending that lot together takes some skill. It isn’t immediate but, after repeated listens, it becomes a masterpiece of the weird and the short solo is as inventive as the rest.
Devil Is Always Watchin’ should be used as a prime example of ‘psyche blues’ as its basic riff, which seems so simple, is surrounded by atonal chords and more empathetic bass and drums and the solo is another example of JD’s underappreciated genius, as this power trio also define that term.
The penultimate track, People Pleaser, is dark…the build-up could be the atmospheric soundtrack to a black and white horror film as the creature approaches through the skeletal trees whose arthritic fingers scratch the sky…or that’s my weird imagination getting carried away with the Zappa meets Pretties For You…err, which they did! It’s totally unfathomable but I find it captivating to listen to the way JD makes use of the guitar in so many experimental and interesting ways. It may not be a sing-a-long but its complexity is rewarding if you listen to it a few times and then imagine Hendrix guesting with Zappa and very early Alice. The final track, Recovery, maintains the raw, apparent freeform structure but the picked riff and slide insertions are simply fascinating…and the slide solo is pure genius as it shares time with the haunting riff.
As I said in a previous review of JD’s work: “This is not a blues album; this is not a rock album; this is not a blues-rock album; this is not purely a guitar album…it is a marriage of styles that works so well on every level. Every note from every instrument is effortlessly brought together to make an album that should appeal (albeit not every track) to fans of Hendrix, Cream, the Grateful Dead and the more obscure works of people like Carl Veheyran, Tim Donahue and, obviously, to fans of guitar virtuosos like wot I am! This album is and will remain a favourite for many a year…try it and buy it.” I haven’t changed that opinion; this new album is as good or better, albeit even more ‘avant garde’ and the advice remains the same: buy it, listen to it a number of times and you will feel the penny drop.
Go Away Satan
I’m In Love
Know It All
Want What I Don’t Have
That’s When You Know That You’re Down
Devil Is Always Watchin’
JD Simo: guitar, vocals
Adam Abrashoff: drums
Adam Bednarik: bass
Produced by Adam Abrashoff; Mind Control is released on 5th November.
(iTunes decided that I needed more JD Simo before moving to some great old blues from JB Hutto (I assume JB came after JD because there were full stops between the J and B not the JD) and the country blues ruckus of Please Help.)