with Dan Whitehouse
The Attic at The Railway Inn
Wednesday 11th November 2015
The Fire of Lust
( A Little Complicated ?)
They Care For You
Why Don’t We Dance?
The Places We’ve Been
Somebody Loves You
You Brought The Sunshine
Birds (Neil Young)
Take Me With You
Season of Change
Got it All
All Of The People (w. Dan Whitehouse)
That’s Just The Way It Is (w. Dan Whitehouse)
Pyramid (w. Dan Whitehouse)
Good Girl (w. Dan Whitehouse)
Natural Grace (w. Dan Whitehouse)
(Good Times For Good People?)
I’ve been listening to a great deal of Simi Stone this year, as a backing singer on two tracks on Natalie Merchant (2014), Ladybird and Go Down Moses, and since last Saturday on Natalie Merchant’s Paradise Is There: The New Tiger Lily Recordings. My iTunes list shows that along with Maggie Said, they’re my three most played songs this year. Natalie Merchant contributed the song Don’t Come Back to Simi Stone’s new album.
Simi Stone was part of The Duke & The King, and I saw her live with Simone Felice twice in 2012. I’ve also seen Dan Whitehouse with Simone Felice, just a year ago, and I’ve listened to his album Raw State a lot. Both are united by a shared record label for this tour, and both are in a similar position, having made albums with excellent bands and being out on a solo tour with no supporting musicians.
Dan Whitehouse started out with a solo set then promised he would be joining Simi Stone later. He used an electric guitar, the battered dark blue Telecaster that was given to him by Simone Felice. Singing solo with an electric guitar can sound jarring, but this was a rare occasion when it worked. He had a complex array of footpedals, and had a device where he seemed to be playing rhythm, then looped it (I think on the night) and played lead guitar over the top. He had a beautiful sound from the Telecaster too. The set mixed the familiar from the Raw State album, combined with material from an album due next year. The earlier album has backing from Danny & The Champions of The World, plus the legendary pedal steel work of B.J. Cole, so it’s really hard to reproduce fully on stage. He has learned lessons from Simone Felice on how to focus performance when you’re down to just yourself on backing, by focussing hard on his lyrics.
He opened with The Fire of Lust and added They Care For You, Why Don’t We Dance, Somebody Loves You. All solid choices, but I missed the excellent My Heart Doesn’t Age, which he did last time.
The new material was all promising on first listen, and I recall the powerful lift his material gets from Danny Wilson’s production and the fine backing band. It will be a definite buy.
I’m surprised she didn’t sing No Easy Way Out from the Duke & The King … she did last time I saw her, and I’d guess the Duke & The King connection was the main reason many people came, that and seeing her previously with Simone Felice. Her music is described as Mountain (as in Catskills) Motown, and it was the soulful addition of her and Nowell Haskins voices to Simone Felice’s voice that made Long Live The Duke & King (an ironic title for a band’s final album) so great.
She opened with Neil Young’s Birds singing solo plus violin, an unusual combination (though I’ve seen Jon Boden do it).
She switched to acoustic guitar for Take Me With You, a poignant song about her father’s death, with some intricate playing. It’s very familiar because I bought her 5-track EP Simi last time I saw her, and it had earlier versions of some tracks on the new album, Simi Stone. She also did Got It All, Missing You and Good Girl from the EP.
Simi gives a real sense of now in her performance. I loved the way she went to start a song, played a chord, thought, and adjusted the capo a fret or two and tried again. I bought the album Simi Stone obviously, and on first listen the day afterwards, it’s clear that some material just can’t be done without a band … I Do, the closing track has that definitive James Jamerson-style Motown bass line, and riffing horns and backing vocals in the background. Gail Ann Dorsey joins in on the backing. It sounds perfect Motown, and I’d love to hear it on stage. Great lyric too, that could be Smokey Robinson or Holland-Dozier-Holland. I just hope she can come back with the full band to do it justice. Bitches Fly is another with terrific rhythm piano and horns. (Get the album …)
So the new material is the possible stuff solo, starting with Good Friend on a descending early R&B line. (YOUTUBE WITH BAND Mountain Jam 2015 )
Season of Change is another lovely melody, and it works with simple acoustic guitar … until you hear the chorus with double-tracked girl group backing voices on the album, the faded horns and the drum part. Then there was Missing You and Got It All which I know well.
At that point, Dan Whitehouse joined her for All of The People. I’d guessed he’d be adding lead to her rhythm guitar, but he picked up an acoustic guitar. She took the opportunity to abandon guitar, and move to hand held mic, and she needed the space to move and really perform to the audience without the distraction / barrier of guitar. On this and That’s Just The Way It Is she took the opportunity to pick up her violin, but only to do the solos. Next was Pyramid with its soaring Baby-Baby-Baby chorus, it was one I’d thought of as I Can’t Let You Go until I put the album on coming home.
Good Girl was the highlight of the EP, and of the last show of hers I saw, also at Winchester. She really needed to be free of guitar for this and really rocked it up and took it to the audience. It’s almost burlesque, and you know you’re in the presence of a World Class singer, even in the absence of the large band the song really demands. The night afterwards I saw Thea Gilmore, and while she didn’t have drums she had Tracy Brown doubling on piano and bass guitar, and someone who could do that with backing vocals would be an ideal economy accompanist for Simi.
For the encore, they talked about trying Natural Grace, a hard choice with just guitar as it’s a sublime piece of funky soul with deep bass line. Dan Whitehouse nipped off stage to get its cues, but they performed it just as a duo, and she didn’t play.
She finished up with a singalong (without Dan Whitehouse) which I can only call Good Times For Good People which doesn’t seem to be from either album. There’s a YouTube performance of this from 2011.
Catch this tour if you can … and explore YouTube for samples with a band. Let’s hope she can get over with a band or at least a couple of people next year.
After the first three dates, she’s opening for Lau. See the poster above.