January Album of the Month

JD Simo - Songs from the House of Grease artwork

Authenticity over invention, truth over hype – we start 2023 with a studio album that takes us right back to the roots of rock n roll and blues; a performance album where the honesty and the skill of great playing reminds us what the heart and soul of guitar music is all about.

I’ve followed JD Simo’s story since mid 2016 and our series of five ‘love-bus’ interviews over time captured the wit and charm of an artist who brings so much conviction, heart and intelligence to the rock n roll scene. This conviction washes through the run of fine band and solo albums that JD has released since ‘Let Love Show The Way’ – but here with ‘Songs From The House of Grease’ we have JD’s finest album to date, featuring his finest guitar-playing captured on record.

From the opening track, the new recordings are immediately arresting and fully consuming and – as albums were always intended to be enjoyed – this release works as a body of work not a collection of individual tracks. This is an album to listen to through a good set of speakers, with the lights low and a nice glass of red.

Organic. Natural. A million miles away from so many rock albums that too often seem contrived, pieced together by technology tools or clever producers. There’s nothing artificially constructed here with JD’s new album, the music here is spontaneous, intuitive and you can feel the bond of natural chemistry between the trio – featuring drummer Adam Abrashoff and bassist Todd Bolden. In contrast to so many studio albums where the pieced-together music becomes far removed from what a band will often sound like or be capable of sounding like on stage – here you are as close to the feel of a live show that you’ll get to hear this year on a recorded album. The usual album playbook is thrown out the window. The songs are as long as they need to be, there’s as many of them as there needs to be – and the musical intuition makes the rules on how the album turns out, as JD Simo takes us on a true musical journey.

The new album presents five songs including covers of John Coltrane’s ‘Afro Blue’, Blind Alfred Reed’s ‘How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live’ and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s ‘Mortgage on My Soul.’ There’s also a brand new Meters-inspired cut entitled ‘Missy’s Strut’.

A highlight for me is the new opus re-working of JD’s ‘Higher Plane’ from his self-titled 2020 record. Richly atmospheric and viscerally alive in every sense, this recording grows into a full-blown, high-intensity jazz jam. JD is not working within neat structures here, he trusts the music to dictate its own direction and journey. This sense of freedom is something we seldom really get to experience on studio albums.

The music reminds me of the original stance JD took towards social media fan engagement during the lockdown era. A time when many bands used social media to exploit brand marketing to maintain their visibility and noise levels, JD did something quite different. I remember clearly he took time to talk about the roots of blues and rock n roll, and talk about the figures that have framed the genre – and the evolution of the guitar music tradition, which he played as he spoke. JD is first and foremost about the music and understanding his identity and place within the historicity of the guitar music genre. This sense of connection – both humble and thoughtful – washes through the music of his last few albums, with the latest offering being the most rounded representation of who JD Simo is –  and how he is taking forward into a new era a music tradition he lives and breathes, heart and soul.

Today rock and blues suffer greatly from the perceived need to give music sub-genre labels as though we have all become a nation of music archivists, where the categorising blinds us from the freedom to roam and discover that is implicit with the timeless spirit of music. The music on this album would be as at home at Ronnie Scott’s as it would the Royal Festival Hall or a rock venue. It exists just to be enjoyed as engaging, emotive and spiritual music – and music that is wonderfully performed.

Music without walls. JD Simo lands an album that reminds us that rock n roll is not a marketing construct of record labels, it’s not about easy-to-digest three-minute singles and nor is it about bands becoming social media brands and confusing great music with social media numbers or the unquestioning tribal devotion of hardcore fans. The essence of rock n roll is a spirit – a spirit that has a history through struggle, a spirit that seamlessly is linked to other genres of music and a spirit that is about freedom, expression and working outside of convention. On all these counts, JD Simo delivers the most authentic rock n roll release of January 2023 and – in JD’s hands – the legacy of the guitar greats is in safe hands.

‘Songs From The House or Grease’ is released on 13 January 2023 via Crows Feet Records.

Pre-order/ pre-save the new album at https://orcd.co/greasepre

Some archive audio interviews with JD Simo

Love Bus interview 1 from Ramblin’ Man Fayre 2016

Love Bus interview 2 from windswept Brighton, 2017

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