By Mike O’Cull
Grammy-nominated and widely-acclaimed singer, guitarist, and songwriter JD Simo makes actual magic on his new trio effort Songs From the House of Grease.
The album came out January 13th, 2023 on Crows Feet Records and is a rough-and-tumble affair that lets Simo, drummer Adam Abrashoff, and bassist Todd Bolden grind out their mix of hard blues, psychedelia, fearless improvisation, and a touch of the avant-garde. The five tracks here were captured during a brief period off the road in 2022 and contain a vibe no one playing American music today can duplicate. “This record really came together in a low-key manner,” said Simo. “We had a little break from touring in June of last year. I asked the fellas to come over to cut some of the songs that we’ve been playing, but hadn’t been recorded yet. There really wasn’t much of a plan other than that.”
That beautiful, open-ended approach is what JD Simo is all about. He’s the link between formal blues and free jazz, between Buddy Guy and Bitches Brew. Every song he plays takes roots music into a genre-blind future where expression and extension triumph over all. He can go from lowdown and sweet to explosive and noisy in a blink and builds his sound between those polar opposites. He’s worked with major artists including Jack White, Tommy Emmanuel, Luther Dickinson, and Blackberry Smoke, given knockout performances at Bonnaroo, Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, and Mountain Jam, and was hand-picked by music supervisor David Cobb to record all of the guitars in Baz Luhrmann’s recent blockbuster biopic Elvis. A true shack-shaker and upsetter, Simo’s genius lies in his expansive range and his willingness to risk it all in each moment.
JD Simo opens Songs From the House of Grease with a modal, hypnotic reading of hill country blues legend Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Mortgage On My Soul.” JD and his rhythm section are instantly entrancing, creating an undulating musical mantra that quickly becomes fertile ground for their communal explorations. His guitar tone is warm and his playing is a million miles from typical. Simo uses tension, dissonance, and pure artistic horsepower to take listeners to places most players don’t even know exist.
His cover of John Coltrane’s timeless “Afro Blue” continues in this direction but goes further outside. Simo weaves lines, sounds, and textures with his guitar that display his jazz chops right next to his noise-rock attitude. The result is a singular take on this familiar tune that will cleanse your soul. Get your mind where it needs to be and let this track wash over you.
Simo busts out some serious funk on his original instrumental “Missy’s Strut.” He’s obviously a big fan of The Meters and does an outstanding job conveying his love for their beloved New Orleans feel. He drops strong riffs on it but also turns in some of his most graceful guitar work on the entire set. If you live for the funky stuff, this one will be your new favorite jam.
Blind Afred Reed’s “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live” is a delicate lament full of space, slide guitar, and a litany of worries. Simo comes across like he’s playing in the room with you. He’s intimate, confessional, and existential, trying to figure out how to survive a maze of trouble. All three players lay back here, letting the song and lyrics speak for themselves.
The final song, “Higher Plane,” finds Simo lighting his fires one more time before the end of the record. He takes flight by using jazz tactics, rock fever, and an overwhelming desire to preach his message of art, love, and survival to a world that needs to hear it. Songs From the House of Grease is another wonderfully intense release from one of the most creative roots guitarists of our times. Let him take you along on his ride; you’ll be better for the journey.
Order link for Songs From the House Of Grease Here