Kaz Simmons: Signs (2013)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
It's album number four from London-based singer and songwriter Kaz Simmons. It's called Signs. It deftly explores the fertile ground that encompasses jazz, folk and the quirkier end of '70s British psych-rockand it's a joy.
Simmons has slimmed down her band for Signsa small but perfectly formed quartet share the musical honors, compared to the dozen or so players on her third album, Dandelions (Fast Awake, 2011). It hasn't reduced the musical range, however. Keyboard player Will Bartlett contributes a wide range of tones and colors on his own, adding Simmons' own acoustic guitar and the guitar, bass and drums of Martin Kolarides, Riaan Vosloo and Tim Giles results in an expansive array of sounds. Above them all is the diamond that is Simmons' voice.
Simmons has always declared her love of jazz and folk, but Signs heralds the arrival of a new passion. So what else is influencing Simmons-2013? A spot of psychedelia, that's whatshe namechecks Genesis and Pink Floyd. Hints of David Gilmour-era Floyd certainly come through in the excellent Kolarides' electric guitar and there's a definite prog rock sound to Bartlett's keyboards and Tim Giles' drums on "London Loves." But the finest of the Genesis and Floyd influences come from both bands' early incarnations, with Simmons combining the quintessential Englishness of Genesis' Nursery Cryme (Charisma 1971) and Floyd's Syd Barrett years (Hurrah!) in lyrics and music. "Last" finds this combination at its most successful.
The tunes range from the jolly and upbeat ("Last," "For The Love Of The Big L") to the aching beauty of "Your Love" and "I Know You." The lyrics have a similar breadth"Staying In" is laugh-out-loud funny, "Last" is happy-sad, "Your Love" is heartbreaking. Whichever combination Simmons creates, the results are a delight.
The seemingly wide-eyed innocent of "London Loves" or "Last" is by no means an ever-present persona. Just ask the poor sod who's the subject of "Staying In." This is Simmons at her most cheekily playful, the tale of a "sporty man" searching for love by means of a well-dodgy internet dating profile. Kolarides' guitar perfectly captures the satirical edge of Simmons' lyrics. "For The Love Of The Big L" is a bit of an homage to Simmons' home town, but it's by no means unambiguous even if her declaration that "I really love it here" seems genuinely heartfelt. When she sings "We're friendly people here, honestly" over the cheerful, gently-rolling melody does she mean it or is she just extracting the Michael, as her fellow-citizens might say?
Simmons' solo performance of the classically-romantic "You Belong To Me" brings her folk roots to prominence. With just her nylon-strung acoustic guitar for company she sings this beautiful standard with a purity of voice and a level of emotional involvement that few vocalists can hope to achieve. There's a jazzy side to some of her phrasing too.
Track Listing: Last; I Know You; Your Love; For The Love Of The Big L; London Loves; Staying In; Signs; If Time Stopped; You Belong To Me.
Personnel: Kaz Simmons: vocals, acoustic guitars; Martin Kolarides: electric guitar, vocals (6); Will Bartlett: Wurlitzer piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B-3, electric piano, vocals (6); Riaan Vosloo: bass guitar; Tim Giles: drums, percussion, vocals (6); Benedic Lamdin: vocals (6).
Record Label: Fast Awake Records