Friday, May 5, 2017

Pat Simmons Jr. - This Mountain

Pat Simmons Jr. - This Mountain 

This Mountain is a stunning first effort from Patrick Simmons Jr and the six songs sound like the product of a performer much older and more seasoned. There’s not a single note of dross on these cuts. Simmons Jr has a finely tuned ear for writing concise songs with important things to say and a perfect facility for saying them. This Mountain betrays a strong blues, folk, and jazz influence, but Simmons Jr’s upbringing in Hawaii has an enormous effect on the EP’s songwriting. Much of the EP’s lyrical contributions, all exceptionally well written, touch on aspects of his life on the big island of Maui, but he relates the landscape and culture in such a way that anyone with a sense of place in their own lives can surely relate. The production, courtesy of his father Pat Simmons Sr, puts this music out there in the best imaginable way and achieves a perfect balance between the instruments and singing.  

He’s got a lively spirit and way of tackling these songs. It’s patient, however, and “Up and Out By Five” shows that off. Simmons has the vocal chops to match the music, but he has the restraint to make sure his singing lines up well with the arrangement. The result is music that has a real bounce, but it isn’t shallow rudimentary stuff. It all comes down to presentation. The first song gets over a mood that’s important to understanding the release as well. “Rust” shows another face of Simmons’ musical character and the lower-key approach he pursues with this arrangement and vocal makes for an effective tandem with the opener. Bringing slide guitar into the stew gives it a potent spike and raises the soul factor some, but Simmons is the real soul behind these songs. He has an easy going elegance that few debut performers are able to bring to bear and it never fails to sound convincing. 

The mid tempo stride “Mauna Mele” has the same uncluttered approach defining the EP as a whole and the same spirit coloring his singing on the release’s best moments. As the title easily indicates, Simmons has culled the subject from his every day Hawaiian life, but it’s no impediment to understanding the song’s sentiments. “How Many Years” begins life as a straight blues with a practically solo performance setting – it’s just Simmons’ singing, acoustic guitar, and incidental streaks of harmonica. It turns into something quite different early on when drums and new guitars come in, but it never seems to fully capitalize on its obvious potential and some may find themselves longing for a bigger payoff at the end. “Touch the Ground” is another memorable moment, particularly for the inclusion of electric guitar fills, but Simmons gives his best vocal on the album with this performance. He brings it to a perfect ending with the last track “All the Way”. The same generosity of spirit filling many of the song’s performances comes through quite strongly on this closing number. He dovetails his voice quite nicely into the arrangement and the bluesy feel has a positive mood pervading throughout. It brings this release to the sort of closing it deserves and will linger in listener’s memory for quite a while.  

9 out of 10 stars

David Shouse

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