At a time when the great and good of mainstream Nashville can be found in the UK playing the country fest that is C2C Stephen Simmons’ latest offering acts as an antidote to much of the current anodyne output of that great song writing town. As is befitting a native of Tennessee, his 10th album offers up a collection of self-penned songs that, although having a definite taste of country running through them, have an intelligence and musical nuance that sets them apart.
There are sharply observed takes on love, travel and art here. The title track offers up ‘a world without dreams, without wild and beautiful schemes, where man never lets himself hope, leaves only a machine with no soul.’ This theme of hope is not a one off. The beautifully restrained closing track, On Top of a World, with a simple accompaniment of acoustic guitar, harmonica and the perfect harmonies of Glen Simmons and Molly Jewell has the chorus, ‘I swear I would rather be six feet under, then on top of a world with no hope, yeah a world without art has no hope.’
In a world of single track downloads a well-constructed album with songs that can both hold their own as independent things but can also fit together as a complete body of work without the jarring changes of pace and tone that can terrorise the unprepared ear is a fine thing. This is not a one paced album however. Beautifully observed ballads sit alongside up tempo roadhouse rock and roll. But tracks like Every Time and One Fast Move make the transition in pace a compliment to what has gone before and adds to the ebb and flow of a fine body of work.
Stephen has recorded this album with a combination of family members as well as long-time band members Dave Coleman (guitars), Alex McCullough (pedal steel), Tim Blankenship (drums), Duane Blevins (bass), the aforementioned Molly Jewell (Keyboards) and utility player and Stephen’s co-producer, Eric Fritsch. Between them they have created a high-quality album that allows Stephen to showcase his talent as a songwriter with the ability to deliver them with a voice that is the match of any of his Nashville peers.
Country does Americana – and does it very well.