8th June 2015
“Mountain Motown” is how Simi Stone describes her album (she grew up in the mountains near Woodstock) and, after hearing her do a support slot recently, I had to take a listen to this set from summer 2015 and I’m glad I did. As expected, it was full of pop and soul, inhabiting an eternal sixties.
Simi has a slightly tight voice, in a good way, that gives her access to the inflections that drive bluesy numbers and lies in a vocal arc with Duffy and Amy Winehouse. The expression is properly soulful and the promise is fulfilled with handclaps, bumping beats and piano-driven melodies. On one hand it’s an old-school arrangement, on the other, it is modern instruments, with a contemporary pop sonic palette.
I first stumbled on Simi Stone when her sweet tones were part of The Duke & The King, a short-lived group showcasing Simone Felice, before he went solo. Simi has a solid body of work here herself, with a dozen of the songs being her own (and one by Natalie Merchant). Songs are love songs to boys, a song to her Dad, a couple of classy pastiches, and a clutch of inspirational lyrics; “My inspiration comes from…. The fires I have walked through, from the fire I have seen others walk, laugh, cry and sing through. I set out to make music for people – joyful, honest music.” Some of the songs are careful pop mini-masterclasses, some are more in singer-songwriter territory but buttressed by their place in a sequence of bop, pop, blues, rest, repeat. She’s got a good band, not least in Sara Lee, one-time member of the Gang Of Four and Fripp’s League Of Gentlemen.
Songs hymn the importance of good friends, being an outsider, winning the guy and the wonderful Good Girl, a big production number about Simi changing her act to win the boy. Another stand-out is Bitches Fly (but I walk). I Do rounds up the album, compressed and thuddy like an old Motor City 45, leaving the room scented with the sweet smell of old dance music. This is a fun album with few pretentions; an album of pop, soul, big hooks, soulful vocalising and heartfelt lyrics.