As we stumble towards 2015 with our pathetic iPhone habit we could really use a hero. Sylvie Simmons was born in London, but she has lived in the Bay Area for years. Best known as a music journalist, she wrote last year's fabulous Leonard Cohen biography, I'm Your Man. She wrote THE book on Serge Gainsbourgh, A Fistful of Gitanes. She has written extensively for MOJO, Rolling Stone, Sounds, Blender and many more. But has she interviewed Lou Reed? Why yes, yes she has! She also did the last major interview with Johnny Cash. So why haven't you heard of her? Good question. Fortunately there is no better time than NOW. After a lifetime of articles, interviews and books, Sylvie comes out of the closet with a ukulele and some beautiful songs.
Sylvie with Johnny Cash
Her debut record, Sylvie, just came out on Light in the Attic Records. It is a masterpiece. Someone this well-connected might have called up just about anyone for help, but Sylvie went straight to Howe Gelb (of Giant Sand infamy). It was the right decision. No one knows how to give space like Howe. Sylvie's voice and simple ukulele chords are right up front where they belong. There is a light, fragile quality to the music but her voice has a passion and old-soul richness that cuts right through and grabs you by the __________ (insert your favorite body part here).
Sylvie is touring furiously both here and in Europe. The next chance to hear her will be on the almighty, commercial-free, Mission based, BFF.fm radio on Thursday 12/11 from 4-6pm. She will play a few songs with DJ indierockgirl and guest DJs from The Octopus Literary Salon for some serious radio fun. Sylvie will then sprint across town to The Jewish Community Library (1835 Ellis Street) for a full show. December 18th Sylvie plays a house show in Berkeley (info TBA) and December 20th she will play a Winter Solstice party at Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland! This event also includes Fronds (new project from The Mallard), plus Omnimax style films overhead, Drake's Brewery tastings and more! Check The Octopus Literary Salon for more info.
There is a lot of ukulele on this record. Fans of ukulele will be very pleased. Those lukewarm on ukulele shall be converted.
The record kicks off with "Moon Over Chinatown". A bowed bass is the only accompaniment except a wisp of guitar. The lyrics are dreamy. "My Lips Still Taste of You" has forceful electric piano (Rhodes?) plus jazzy vocal phrasing reminiscent of Jimmy Scott (who died this year making me oh so grateful that I caught him at Yoshi's in 2011). "Hard Act to Follow" features delicately layered vocals and uke alone until a little 3am piano starts up in the corner. "Lonely Cowgirl" is pure country gold. "Town Called Regret" is the rocker...a punk rocker, and sorta makes you wish The Sadies were backing her up: more guitars, drums, the whole enchilada. "The Rose You Left Me" sounds like a John Cale song with beautiful lyrics, church organ and a lightly plucked uke. "Midnight Cowboy" includes whistling and just enough reverb to make it lonesome. "Life Goes Bad" is pretty naked except for some faint hissing sounds. At first it seems to be cars going by on wet pavement, but perhaps it is just the spooky synthesizer that arrives later. "Who Knows" is a lullaby and a love song in one -just the right closer for that holiday playlist you have been putting together. "You Are in My Arms" is the hit, like a warm sweater on a cold San Francisco night. The record ends with an R-rated cover of "Rhythm of the Rain" followed by a reprise version of "Midnight Cowboy" with a little bit of everything on it.Sylvie Simmons