Crows Feet Records Inc [Release date 21.08.20]
For some folks, Acid rock never really went out of fashion, it was simply subjugated into a supporting role for other genres.
JD Simo may well buy into that theory, as his self-titled solo album works hard to find an exciting context for his own contemporary psychedelia, with plenty of soulful grooves, hard edged funk, a bluesy undertow and trippy riffs, all glued together with lashing of intensity.
It’s an exploratory album with a surprising claustrophobic feel, which he counters by pushing himself to bursting point.
Listen for example, to his idiosyncratic reading of Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘The Soul Of A Man’. He establishes a frenetic wah-wah groove with edgy supporting harmonies, pounding free form drums, big beats and some jagged guitar, on a highly original arrangement that pushes the blues standard into full blown psychedelia.
Listen also to the sudden buzz guitar explosion and frenetic drum pattern on the opening ‘The Movement’, which gives us an introductory snapshot of what you might expect the rest of the album to be.
In fact, ‘JD Simo’ is built on intricately woven, but significant dynamics and deep tonal textures, all conjoined by a jam band spirit and a production that aims to update 70’s style West coast psychedelia.
The fact that JD is Nashville based – evidenced by incendiary picking on the short instrumental ‘Take That’- might hold the key to his own restless exploratory style.
He’s got razor sharp chops, a deep appreciation of the fundamentals of rock, blues, funk, soul, jazz and free form psychedelia. He moves from stripped drum patterns and sinewy psychedelic tones to an almost unfettered approach that finds him pouring contrasting musical pulses into his own unique mould.
He’s frequently pulled towards bone crunching riffs, while teetering on the brink of impenetrable soundscapes. Sonically speaking, there’s always something unique going to frame his own spark and stoke the listener’s imagination.
In truth, it’s an album that demands patience and an intuitive understanding. Jam band fans will surely lap it up and adventurous blues-rockers will also be drawn in. And if soul fans might be simply puzzled, guitar fans as a whole will surely enjoy pinning down the wide-ranging influences.
The fact that the album is self-titled is also a key to understanding his own style.
Where most of his contemporaries have been working on their songs and their tone, as part of an introspective approach born of the current pandemic, Simo does the exact opposite, with a spontaneous Jackson Pollock style explosion of raw psychedelic blues.
From the opening fazed psyche-soul of ‘The Movement’ – complete with falsetto vocal – to the closing slide-led, down home finish of ‘Anna Lee’, he draws us into a raw, intense and always honest musical journey.
He wears his honesty on his sleeve simply in the way he’s prepared to cross different genres to find his true core.
When he launches into the psychedelic squalls of ‘Love’, he takes you on a brief roller coaster ride before settling on a mantra like hook.
There’s so much going on, that each repeated listen to the album bubbles up more textures that you might have missed the first time around.
It’s music that somehow joins the dots between introspection and the sheer joy of being. He’s a sideman who has moved centre stage with an album that challenges himself to bring out all his facets, quite often in the very same song.
It’s a heavy album, but with subtle intricacies that constantly search for balance in a well sequenced set, as it moves from the weighty ‘Higher Plane’ to the more subtle ‘One Of Those Days’ on a Curtis Mayfield influenced soul outing.
The latter ditches the fuzzed-up guitars for a jangling tone to let his soulful spirit breath, on a song that could be a radio friendly single.
He’s served well by his power trio who fearlessly launch into the void with their barn burning leader. And he isn’t satisfied until he’s pursued every little nuance leading us into unexpected musical avenues, albeit he doesn’t stay in one place too long.
So, while we’re swept up by the sheer drive and drama of ‘Love’, the sudden twist and turns in the song perform a musical sleight of hand, to suggest one thing, but then leads us to another.
Perhaps he’s making a musical statement about the overall complexity of his subject matter and the way we can be overwhelmed by our mutually shared emotions.
JD channels all those essential feelings into gut busting arrangements which he drenches with some outrageous guitar lines.
He’s in his element on a bombastic reading of James Brown’s ‘Out Of Sight’ in a blur of fractured dense funk. His tough husky vocal is matched by coruscating guitar work as he explores extravagant sonic arcs over a percolating rhythm section, before a perfunctory ending.
‘Higher Plane’ is heavier still, with a barrage of distorted guitars with a strangled tone over more pounding drums, a pinch of reverb and an eerie vocal that sounds as if it was recorded in jar of heavy-duty treacle!
And just as the unsettling song sounds as if it’s about to drown under its own weight, there’s a subtle change of tempo with a booming wall of sound and an old school sounding solo.
His guitar battles to rise above the heavy-duty accompaniment and eventually settles for some seagull like squawks.
He gets funky again on the explosive ‘Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic’, the chorus of which puts me in mind of the Supersonic Blues Machine, but with a fuzzed up crunchy guitar tone.
Not everything works as well though. The ‘kitchen sink and all’ approach to the big toned ‘Help’ all but drowns under its own weight, though it’s belatedly counter-balanced by the shrill toned ‘Anna Lee’.
The latter brings us back to the blues on a slide-led book-end. It cleverly evokes the end of an adventurous musical journey that is never less than intense, committed and inspiring.
At times the album may lack clarity and dare I say it restraint, but it’s made with real heart and an incredible ability, so we can surely forgive him for that. ****
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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