Album review: SAVOY BROWN – City Night

SAVOY BROWN – City Night

Quarto Valley Records [Release date 07.06.19]

‘City Night’ is a milestone release for Kim Simmons. It’s his 40th album release and comes on the back of his relatively recent 50th anniversary and the chart topping ‘Witchy Feelin’ album.

In recent years he’s opted for a power trio format with his own spoken word vocals embedded into some guitar work and slide which is very much to the fore on the opening ‘Walking On Hot Stones’.

So while his vocals have an understated feel, his guitar playing is still sharp as flint. Listen for example to the way his long linear lines help shape ‘Don’t Hang Me Out To Dry’ and give the song its momentum.

But in fronting his band as a vocalist for the last 7 years, Kim has compromised his style slightly. There’s still a melange of stinging guitar work over a killer rhythm section, but his laid back conversational vocal style is closer to say the late Tony Joe White or JJ Cale than predecessors such as Chris Youlden, Dave Walker or Joe Whiting. The end result is that sometimes after an opening burst, the song goes on to gently caress a plateau rather than uplift the listener.

And ironically enough, energy and drive is what Simmons is all about. His music and guitar playing matches his own restless psyche, built on a relentless work ethic that is shot through with his guitar playing intensity.

‘City Night’ strikes decent balance, especially on tracks such as ‘Conjure Rhythm’. The pounding rhythm track evokes the song title, while setting the template for the band’s intensity. The vocal adds a gentle nuance rather than leads from the front.

The guitar and vocal dichotomy does however give him greater room for an array of extended solos full of poise and intensity, over the percolating bass of Pat De Salvo and rock solid drumming of Garnet Grimm.

He sets out his lilting riff driven groove laden style on ‘Payback Time’, over which he phrases eloquently on a stop time hook, before his solo lifts the song over a mesmerising rhythm track.

And if Savoy Brown circa 2019 is more about grooves and solos as an integral part of the song, then the ripping guitar lines of ‘Red Light Mama’  is closer to the band’s early career, albeit with more mixed back vocals.

This is Simmons’ 8th album with the current rhythm section, reflected by the fact it’s a tight unit who provide the perfect platform for Kim to solo brusquely

‘Conjure Rhythm’ is another riff driven groove with significant changes and a familiar voodoo theme, while ‘Neighbourhood Blues’ is somewhat more laboured, perhaps reflecting the song’s opening thematic line:   ‘I’m Tired of living in this neighbourhood’.

‘Selfish World’ on the other hand, is all about Simmons’s delicate touch and tone, as his resonant notes rise above some brusque chords with whispered vocals,  not too far removed from Peter’s Green’s early 80’s Kolors era.

‘Wearin’ Thin’ opens with an avalanche of guitars, but settles for another laid back vocal over double tracked guitar work, while the shuffle driven title track is almost introspective compared to the opening three track bluster. But Pat De Salvo’s subtle walking bass line and Simmons’s sinewy lead guitar work levers us into a deep groove that draws the listener in.

And once you’re hooked you can see why it was chosen as the title track and as an exemplar of Kim Simmons current dualistic style. The song is stoked by fiery guitar lines, a tight rhythm section, but is counter-weighted by Kim’s expressive vocals that rely on clarity of diction and meaningful phrasing to make their mark.

It’s the trademark of a mature blues artist who knows the value of dynamics, grooves, a guitar hook and some searing solos that still find room for tonal subtly and are forged with real purpose.

‘City Night’ crosses over his Brit blues-rock into a southern tinged roots-rock style that aches with feel, drips with experience and is delivered with technical excellence.

Even in his most basic moments as on the Bo Diddley inspired ‘Hang In Touch’, he adds a Billy Gibbons style buzz tone on his guitar and builds up a tension with more slide driven riffs.

He rounds things off with a timeless boogie ‘Ain’t Gonna Worry’, on the kind of song he could peel off at any time during his 50 plus year career.  But the fact that you instantly know its Kim Simmons tells you all you need to know about an enduring guitarist and relatively recent lead vocalist who with ‘City Night’ has managed to breathe fresh life into the very blues-rock genre that he helped to create in the late 60’s. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.

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