Styles: Contemporary Acoustic and Electric Blues Rock, Mellow Blues
Full disclosure: I never thought there would be a good use for the universally-hated Emoji Movie, except as a shoe-in for this year’s Razzie Awards. However, its main character has proven a brilliant illustration of the fourth album from the UK’s Mick Simpson, Black Rain. In the film, our hero Gene is a “Meh” emoji, meant to show his face when something isn’t bad, but it isn’t good, either. He’s supposed to be the paragon of indifference, but Gene’s strength and weakness is that he demonstrates multiple expressions. So does Mick Simpson, from angst on “To Hell and Back”, to tenderness on “Sweet Lorraine,” to rueful sorrow on “Promised the Earth” (reviewed below). However, Gene can’t deny his purpose and his parentage – his mom and dad are also Meh’s. Die-hard blues rock fans, especially of Steve Miller and Stevie Ray Vaughan, might sense an underlying “meh-ness” in Black Rain. It’s good, but could’ve been great. On eleven original tracks, he combines a smooth blues-rock edge with mellow, low-key vocals.
According to Simpson’s Wikipedia page, “In the early 1980s, Simpson found work as a session guitarist on the London scene, after receiving airplay of his track’s on BBC Radio 1’s Friday Night Rock Show. In the mid-1990s, Simpson worked with John Parr of St Elmo’s Fire fame, with his guitar work featured on the album Man with a Vision, and also on hit films such as The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Three Men and a Baby with Tom Selleck.
“Throughout the 1990s, Simpson remained busy working with the UK session drummer and producer Graham Broad, and recorded sessions for Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Tina Turner, Bryan Adams, and Go West.”
Due to all these accolades, yours truly wonders why she hasn’t heard of Mick Simpson before, and why he isn’t more well-known in the United States as well as his native England. He’s certainly got the background and the instrumental musicianship to be a household name, but the production values on his latest effort could have been tighter and slicker.
Along with Simpson on lead vocals, guitars and mandolin are producer and co-writer Andy Littlewood on keyboards, backing vocals and bass; Pete Nelson on drums and percussion; Eva Carboni on lead vocals for track three; Dave Hunt on harmonica for track 7; Michael John McEligott for acoustic guitar on track four; and Becca Sanchez on backing vocals for track ten.
On this album, the last song is the best one, stunning in its resemblance to Steve Miller’s hits.
Track 10: “Promised the Earth” – One of the biggest pitfalls in a relationship is having sky-high expectations of earthbound people. “You should have stayed by my side when you promised the earth,” Simpson laments in this moody and atmospheric number. “It’s so easy to be a fool, tripping over and falling through. Why did I take you at your word?” All the instruments are so on-point it’s eerie, most notably Andy Littlewood’s rain-shower keyboards and Mick’s guitar.
If you’re in the mood for relaxing blues on a stormy night, Mick Simpson’s Black Rain will refresh you!