Friday, February 10, 2023

Savoy Brown - Blues All Around

As most readers here will know, Savoy Brown main man Kim Simmonds passed away last December, succumbing to the cancer with which he was diagnosed in September 2021. Blues All Around, the final album that he and his bandmates completed shortly before he died, bears witness to him sticking to the blues roots that inspired his career for over 50 years, if maybe in simpler and less heavy fashion than on recent releases like Ain’t Done Yet and City Night.
Simmonds plays a lot of slide guitar on Blues All Around, a response to chemotherapy deadening the nerves in his fingers and making single-string playing difficult.  But hey, he
Kim Simmonds - Music is energy
Pic by Arnie Goodman
doesn’t half make a virtue out of necessity.  Take ‘My Baby’ for example, a simple enough little blues excursion with, it has to be said, a pretty hackneyed lyric, but which lays down a crunking groove, with Simmonds demonstrating that he absolutely knows how to generate a magnificently grinding slide guitar sound, backed up by walking bass by Pat DeSalvo.
That grinding slide sound is the backbone of Blues All Around, whether on the ‘It Hurts Me Too’ Elmore James throwback of the slowish ‘Winning Hand’, with its strong, atmospheric slide solo, or the swing’n’sway of ‘Hurting Spell’, its heavier riff offset by some curly Wurly organ sounds en route to a gritty solo. Meanwhile ‘Black Heart’ riffs away fuzzily, veering between stinging and guttural over a rock steady beat as Simmonds groans out a tale of a betrayal by a woman.
‘Blues All Around’ itself is brighter fare, with distant echoes of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Stop Messin’ Round’ and some rhythmic variations as a shaker and even a cowbell are thrown into the mix, while Simmonds wends an impressively lick-strewn path through proceedings, counterpointed by the bright splashes of organ that add colour to several tracks.  ‘California Days Gone By’ is one of the more interesting tunes, a shuffling groove with bumpalong bass to which Simmonds brings ringing slide chords, over plonking, Morse Code-like piano notes, as he sings of some personal West Coast memories.  And ‘Can’t Go Back To My Hometown’ is a bit sweeter, Garnet Grimm’s drums hinting at a Latin feel while Simmonds serves up some call-and-response between his vocal and piercingly toned guitar remarks.  The song feels over-stretched, and the words are a bit thin again, but really it’s all about the guitar work, peaking with a lyrical solo.
The album opens with the brief guitar-and-voice vignette of ‘Falling Through’, a very old-sounding fragment of basic blues, given some electrification.  It’s a mood Simmonds returns to at greater length with the closing ‘Falling Through The Cracks’, backing himself with just two (I think) intertwining guitars.  Ostensibly about giving up on a woman (again), it naturally has something of a valedictory feel, as Simmond’s patient vocal perhaps implies a broader sense of acceptance.
Blues All Around could have done with some judicious trimming and stronger wordsmithing – ‘Texas Love’ is a bit lightweight and clichéd, for example.  But as a final chapter in the Savoy Brown story, it still speaks convincingly of Kim Simmonds’ love of the blues.  As he says in the sleeve notes, "Life is energy.  Music is energy."
Blues All Around is released on 17 February by Quarto Valley Records, and digital versions can be ordered here.

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