John Simon

John Simon's Album

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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder

Producer John Simon did a pair of albums of his own during the 1970s, starting with John Simon's Album (1970), which was two years in the making and featuring many of the musicians with whom he'd been working over that period, including Cyrus Faryar, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Delaney Bramlett, Leon Russell, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Jim Price, and Rita Coolidge, Bobby Whitlock, and Jean Millington. Perhaps not surprisingly, John Simon's Album mostly resembles the first two Band albums, with a clear, sharp, brittle sound rooted in a multitude of popular music strains. The strangest song here is the first, "Song of the Elves," a surreal, psychedelic song derived from an R&B source and beat (with a strong '50s New Orleans feel) that calls to mind both Randy Newman and Brian Wilson -- the strange chorus with its deliberate distortion evokes the late '60s and the peculiar brand of psychedelia generated by the Beach Boys. And speaking of the latter, the bluesy "Did You See" sounds like some magnificent lost piece of the Wild Honey sessions, Wilson suddenly trying his hand at piano-and-guitar blues. The album also encompasses stripped-down gospel in "Nobody Knows," but the real jumping off point comes early, in the horn-driven "Tannenbaum," which sounds for a moment like the original Blood, Sweat & Tears jamming with the Band, and "Davey's on the Road Again" (co-authored with Robbie Robertson) could be a lost Band track in its playing and texture, though Merry Clayton's soaring backing vocal adds a special wrinkle (and recalls Simon's arrangements on Leonard Cohen's first album). Much of the rest, regardless of who's playing, moves between intimate Newman-like (or even Wilson-like) quirkiness and the lean, rocking sound of the Band -- though the piano tends to be the lead instrument, somewhere in there (most notably on "Don't Forget What I Told You") the guitar (mostly played by John Hall) comes in along with the bass and drums, all sounding like part of the Music From Big Pink of The Band sessions. Anyone seeking a kind of stylistic/textural extension of either of those first two albums need look no further, and Simon's music holds up as well -- it's difficult to see what would have been the single off of this album (maybe "Railroad Train Runnin' up My Back"?), though "Annie Looks Down" or "Did You See" could and should have gotten FM play. Out-of-print for decades in the United States, John Simon's Album was re-released on CD in Japan in the early twenty-first century, and reappeared in America in 2006 on the Water label.

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