Saturday, September 26, 2015

I Am The Man - Simone White

I Am The Man
Simone White
Honest Jons Records  HJRLP28

I had never heard of Simone White when I caught her opening for John C. Reilly and Friends at a church in Santa Monica back in 2013.  It was the perfect setting for her sensitive music and delicate voice.  I was enormously impressed by her and shortly afterwards bought this album.  The LP has an unusually generous number of cuts, it actually has three more tracks than the CD version much to my delight.  "I Didn't Have Any Summer Romance" introduces White's low key style.  She breathily croons the words backed by a muted horn section and a laid-back rhythm section.  The song is a cover of a 1962 Carole King single that laments that the only thing worse than having a broken heart from a summer romance that dies in the fall is to not have any summer romance at all.  Despite the song's age, White's version sounds completely contemporary.  "Worm Was Wood" was written by Frank Bango and Richy Vesecky.  Without the horn section, this song sounds even more languid than its predecessor.  The lyrics feature a series of false statements which are ultimately compared to the illusion and transient nature of love.  White's own "The Beep Beep Song" is a whimsical song about love.  It sounds like a children's song but its theme is serious.  "The American War" is a biting satirical song about American military aggression and gunboat diplomacy.  In keeping with its theme, the song has more of a rock flavor with prominent percussion and a guitar riff although White's vocal remains sedate.  "Sweetest Love Song" is a lovely track in which White gives up listening to music because she all she wants to hear is the love song that her lover represents.  The song is glacially slow placing all its emphasis on the sensuousness of the vocal which totally sends me.  "Great Imperialist State" is about being "a spoiled child of the great imperialist state" and the uselessness of such an existence.  The music has more tension than the rest of the album with a richer instrumental palate driven by jangly guitar.  The song concludes with a musical rave-up with a raga-rock flavor.  It is my favorite cut on the album.  "Mary Jane" is about a woman with an abusive husband who becomes a musical performer before settling into a comfortable middle-class existence.  The song has a jazz-folk flavor to it that along with White's breathy vocal reminds me of Nick Drake.  Side one concludes with "Soldier Sailor" which compares a soldier with a sailor and their unhappy situations.  The turmoil in the lyrics contrasts with the calmness in the music.  Side two begins with another Bango/Vesecky composition, "Roses Are Not Red" which again recounts a series of false statements, this time to emphasize the denial a person experiences after a break-up.  Horns and a cello enhance the sparse accompaniment giving the song some much needed color.  "We Used to Stand So Tall" coolly examines the decline of America and the deceptions behind wars.  The song assumes the guise of a children's song which adds to its cutting effect.  "Why Is Your Raincoat Always Crying" returns to Bango/Vesecky once more for a song that uses a person's clothing to dissect their emotions and personality.  White's girlish voice is particularly lovely on this track.  It is followed by a subdued cover of Ewan MacColl's classic "Dirty Old Town" which describes a romance in a decaying industrial town.  It is an odd choice of songs since White's delicate crooning style contrasts with the gritty words, but she manages to put it over anyway.  "You May Be In Darkness" is a melancholy description of a break-up, no recriminations just unhappiness pervades the song.  The song's minimalist accompaniment features a mournful cello that enhances the sadness in White's voice.  "Haven't Got a Dollar To Pay Your House Rent Man" is an old blues song by Morris Rouse and Eddie Jackson recorded by Genevieve Davis in 1927.  The song's exuberance offers a welcome contrast to the moodiness of the rest of the album.  "Only the Moon" is about unrequited love.  It is a sorrowful song that again reminds me of Nick Drake.  White has a voice that is perfect for conveying heartbreak.  The album perks up at the end for "I Am the Man" which is about her taking responsibility for her life and the world around her instead of blaming the powers that be.  In keeping with its upbeat message the song has more energy and a more memorable melody than most of the songs on the record.  It is another one of my favorite cuts.  I enjoy this record's intelligence and consistency of tone.  The lyrics are interesting and have a political edge to them as well that I find refreshing.  I'd prefer more dynamic musical accompaniment, but I have to acknowledge that the restrained arrangements serve to place all the record's focus on White's gorgeous voice and fortunately she is a strong enough singer to make it work.  Nonetheless I find that I can only listen to this album at certain times.  If I listen during the day, it sounds insufferably precious and twee to me.  It runs well over 50 minutes and it is so tranquil and relaxed that I don't have the patience to hear it all the way through.  I find the best time to listen to it is late at night when I am in a more receptive mood for White's sensitivity and the delicate grain of her voice.  Around midnight this album really gets to me.  Recommended to fans of the Finches and Inara George.

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