Real Audio Required –>Simon Says, “Jump Start” (Hollywood Records) — Beware: The boy-band phenomenon has moved beyond the R&B/pop arena. Simon Says brings baggy pants and bleached hair to the pounding beats and heavy guitars of their poppy, hard rock.
On the band’s third album, and first national release, Matt Franks’ slightly-nasal vocals remain calm and compelling while crushing rhythms tear up the backdrop. The Sacramento, Calif., foursome attempt to walk the line between introspection and aggression throughout the 12 tracks, but their limited experience makes for a somewhat clichéd message. “Deal with your problems and move on” seem to be the words of wisdom from Simon Says. In light of recent events, maybe that’s a valid message for America’s teens.
“Life Jacket” opens with Zac Diebels’ laserlike guitar riff as Michael Arrieta’s bass and Mike Johnson’s drums wind up for the head-jamming rhythms to come. Franks’ searching vocals softly validate the thrashing. “The song is about being spontaneous,” he explains, “[about] picking yourself up and going somewhere, anywhere. No need to have a battle plan mapped out; you don’t always have to worry about the unknown.” No new revelation here, but a soothing lyrical juxtaposition for their adrenaline-packed sound. — Carrie Nieman
Real Audio Required –>Doc and Richard Watson, “Third Generation Blues” (Sugar Hill) – Year in and year out, country bluesman Doc Watson has pleased audiences with his mellow baritone and crystal-clear acoustic guitar picking. The no-frills, intense yet laid-back style charmed both hippies and hill folk in the early ’70s and his shows with son Merle through the ’70s and early ’80s were fascinating as they crossed the influences of generations.
Watson’s new disc now finds him teamed with Merle’s son Richard and the results are more of the pure, high-caliber picking and singing Doc Watson fans expect. Refusing to get in the way of one another, Watson and his grandkid pick it like it’s just another Sunday afternoon on the front porch up in the Carolina mountains. The song selection is a bit stock including “House of the Rising Sun,” “Uncloudy Day,” and “Summertime” to name a few. But Doc pulls it off with blues to spare, and that’s why he’s a master and a musical treasure. — Ames Arnold
Real Audio Required –>Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson, “Live At the Rynborn” (M.C. Records) — Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson’s first-ever, full-length live recording catches the longtime blues player and his Magic Rockers band working out on-stage, digging a long steady groove through the familiar Chicago blues style. Johnson plows no new ground here, but he knows how to get the most out of sinewy guitar lines and an earthy moan. Formerly a guitarist in the Muddy Waters Band in the ’70s, Johnson clearly knows his stuff and he swaggers through a mix of Albert King, Willie Dixon and self-penned tunes like he owns every note. Except for a Fats Domino New Orleans rumba-boogie romp, there is a sameness of tempo throughout much of the show. But clearly there’s also musical economy. The band is always pushing but nobody overplays, preferring instead to drop in and out and weave around Johnson’s urgent vocals and his cutting single-note guitar flurries. Johnson simply gets down on it here with straightforward soul. “Live” is nothing flashy but it sure is fun. (Johnson and the Magic Rockers play the Wolf Trap Jazz and Blues Fest in Vienna on June 27.) — A.A.