Sylvie Simmons - Sylvie LP
Light in the Attic Records
While there's a fairly long list of musicians who dabbled as rock writers before they clicked as performers -- Chrissie Hynde, Ira Kaplan, and Shane MacGowan are among the better-known examples -- there aren't nearly as many successful music scribes who took up performing after they earned a reputation for their way with words. One of the few was Lester Bangs, the enlightened lunatic who made Creem Magazine a force to be reckoned with in the '70s and cut a pair of strong albums before his death in 1982, but now the late Mr. Bangs has a rival in Sylvie Simmons, a veteran music journalist who has been covering rock & roll since the mid-'70s and has seen her byline in nearly every major music magazine. To take her at her word, Simmons has been writing and singing songs since she was a girl, but stage fright prevented her from sharing them with an audience; however, Howe Gelb of Giant Sand urged Simmons to make an album, going so far as to produce the sessions himself, and the result, Sylvie, is a modest but genuine delight. On Sylvie, Simmons sings and accompanies herself on ukulele, while bassist Thøger Lund and multi-instrumentalist Gelb provide nearly all the additional instrumentation, and if Simmons' voice is naturally light and sweet, it also carries plenty of weight, carrying her songs of love and heartache with a homespun grace that's charming and genuinely effective. Simmons can be witty and playful when she wants, and cutting when need be, and more importantly, Simmons knows how to write songs. Unlike some tunesmiths who start writing in other media, Simmons understands the rhythms and imagery of a good song, and she knows a lyric doesn't have to be wordy to be eloquent and powerful. Some of the tracks on Sylvie seem like they could blow away in a strong breeze, but they also have the weight of real humanity to anchor them, and Gelb's simple accompaniment and spare production serve them well. It also seems fitting that Simmons cut this album in Arizona, given how well she works with the iconography of the Old West and classic country tunes, not to mention the simple but sturdy frameworks of American folk. Some artists might reach for a grand statement if they were making their first album after nearly four decades as a music journalist, but Sylvie Simmons is smart enough to know the best thing music can do is touch the heart, and that's just what Sylvie does -- whatever her résumé may say, one listen to these songs proves Simmons has the smarts and the instincts of a true musician, and her debut is a true gem.