If you’re having a great day and feeling care-free, you may want to steer clear of ‘Gall,’ the new album by singer-songwriter Stephen Simmons. Recorded in his Tennessee home over the past year, Simmons plays all the instruments this time around, including acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, keys, and harmonica. Primarily though, ‘Gall’ is acoustic guitar driven. The other instruments are used for colour, and very sparingly. In fact, this lack of variety starts to wear thin by the mid-way point.
Simmons’s vocals warrant the inevitable Jason Isbell comparison, with a bit of Scott Miller mixed in. The Isbell influence is most evident on the wistful ‘Acrobats Tonight (Still),’ where Simmons sings “the Wolf and the Muse are both at my door / whom do I feed first / when I ain’t got no more.” You could also easily picture ‘I Love You, But I’m Scared of You,’ showing up as a previously unreleased track from Springsteen’s ‘Ghost of Tom Joad.’
Simmons does allude to some sort of good time on ‘When the Wine’s All Gone’ toward the end of the album, but it sounds like the type of party you would find an excuse to leave early, if quietly.
While Simmons’s guitar playing is fluid, the production clear and mixed well, and his melodies at times captivating, the dreary lyrical content on ‘Gall’ can way heavy over its 45-minute running time. Even Townes Van Zandt gave us a ‘White Freight Liner Blues’ occasionally.
Tennessee singer-songwriter could use a hug