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; even 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.”
I was, therefore, delighted to get my hands on JD’s first solo album called Off At Eleven. With eight tracks clocking in at just shy of an hour, it is a mix of JD’s influences; Jimi Hendrix Experience, Captain Beefheart, Miles Davis, the Allman Brothers, Lightnin’ Hopkins and BB King. The final track however takes up nearly seventeen of those minutes and is the extended work out that the Dead and (live at least) Hendrix were so damn good at and they seem to be the inspiration there. Although names will appear to reference the style or feel of a song on this album, be under no illusions: JD Simo is a talent in his own right with a sound that is distinctly him.
It all starts with JD’s take on Little Walter’s Boom, Boom, Out Go The Lights. This isn’t a Pat Travers type of interpretation, it is a slow, weighty electric reading of a song that, lyrically, threatens rather than celebrates. The guitar phrasing, especially the backing track, is clever while the lead is suitably fuzzed until the slide solo that is electric in every sense. The bass and drums are spot on as well and, on this evidence, the old-fashioned power trio is alive and kicking. The title track is next and it is an instrumental that is more McLaughlin in its form and yet has Hendrix built in…if you love extended guitar explorations by a consummate player (I do!) then this is simply superb. The bass is always in support and it could be Ginger on the sticks with the syncopation the snare and hi-hat provide. You Need Love changes the textures and moves more into the early 60s blues boom and then marries it with some real southern slide to set up a couple of simply stunning solos. The bass and drums are again in total accord and bear listening carefully to…hints of Cobham too. The vocals are suitably phrased and JD has a pretty good voice for a guitarist…if you know what I mean! Back in time to the great Slim Harpo as JD takes the original structure and reworks it brilliantly for guitar. It is as good a cover of this song as any and better than most…the guitar/harp swap is genius; both with bends and pedal. Temptation moves into the soulful, blues and rock arena in a way that keeps the guitar lover more than happy. The slow picked start builds into a sweet, chorded phrasing before a Trower like feel comes to the fore when the vocals cut in. The solo is another tour de force of restrained, thoughtful and precise playing. Mind Trouble is a rhythmic blues with a backline that is complex and brilliant with an electric acoustic lighting the way. Inevitably the solo, which is phased or, probably, played backwards works so well. A BB King track is next and JD takes Sweet Little Angel where we see JD constantly taking the melody into new areas…but the feel and ‘Kingness’ is maintained throughout these sharply observed fret board meanderings. He stays faithful to the vocal lines too, although the first line doesn’t appear until the five-minute mark…this gives plenty of room for more guitar bliss and the reverbed tone and playing is astounding. Bass and drums are, yet again, just on point with inventiveness and superb backing for the guitar of JD to truly shine. Final track, Accept, is the seventeen-minute epic I mentioned and it is errr…epic! Do not expect a typical blues, rock or any other easily classified structure. This is a complex and wide ranging piece that will have you searching for descriptions and superlatives…it is Cream, Hendrix, Dead, Mahavishnu and a few others too, but still uniquely Simo. Importantly, it isn’t too long; it doesn’t drag or overstay as it continually feeds different emotions, phrases and twists of melody and playing styles. It is a showcase for three musicians who seem to have a psychic link that keeps them together no matter where the music roams.
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 Joey B, 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.
TENdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights (Stan Lewis)
- Off at 11
- You Need Love
- I Got Love If You Want It (Slim Harpo)
- Mind Trouble
- Sweet Little Angel (Jules Bihari / Riley B. King)
J D Simo: guitars, vocals
Adam Abrashoff: drums
Luke Easterling: bass