Nashville-based singer and guitarist JD Simo is currently touring the UK (March 2019) with guitar great Tommy Emmanuel CGP so his credentials as a guitarist will not be in question. I’d incorrectly assumed that JD was a straight-ahead bluesman; an assumption blown out of the water by ‘Off At 11’. The blues play a major part in JD’s sound but jazz fans and psychedelic rockers will find much to enjoy as JD and his terrific band; Adam Abrashoff (drums) and bass player Luke Easterling play up a storm on a freewheeling set that owes as big a debt to Miles Davis and The Grateful Dead as it does the Lightnin’ Hopkins and BB King.
Recorded in a mere three days, as JD took a break from touring with Phil Lesh and Friends, at Friendly Confines in Nashville the record was laid down with no edits of studio trickery “Just honesty and a tape machine” as JD puts it. The opening track took me by surprise as the trio run through Stan Lewis’ ‘Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights’ a track familiar to most rock fans via Canadian guitarist Pat Travers who made it his own in the late 70s. The trio attacks the tune with gusto. JD’s vocal brings to mind Gregg Allman while his guitar tone is thicker than Travers fans might remember. The trio rocks hard here with Abrashoff pounding his kit mercilessly. The title track is up next and, as the first of five Simo originals on the album, it ups the ante and takes us into unexpected waters. The rhythm section gets really busy and JD delivers some almost Santana like lines before expanding into the solo. The guitarist doesn’t overplay and locks in wonderfully well with the rhythm section as we veer away from straight forward blues into Allman Brothers / Grateful Dead jam band territory. JD has plenty of influences and seems happy for those various influences to come to the fore, often unexpectedly during any given song. ‘You Need Love’ is a great example as it starts out with an infectiously simple blues-rock riff allowing JD plenty of room to solo. Then, as the band step up through the gears, we're treated to some fantastic playing until the fade at around six minutes that leaves the listener hungry for more.
The material on ‘Off At 11’ stands up well and refuses to be swamped by the trio’s impressive playing even when they’re pushing the envelope of the songs in full on jam mode. It’d be very easy to forget there are tunes here. Luckily the likes of the soulful slow blues ‘Temptation’ or the shuffling ‘I Got Love If You Want It’ show not just the versatility of the playing but also JD’s vocal ability which is often smoother than the opening track might lead you to believe and enhances the albums overall vibe.
The album concludes with two classic examples of where JD and the guys are coming from. ‘Sweet Little Angel’ the BB King standard is the first of these; JD gently and effortlessly working his way up to speed over Easterling’s bass. The playing is quite beautiful and JD adds a really soulful vocal. The final track ‘Accept’ is a seventeen minute monster of a track where JD and the guys are able to throw in all those jazz, rock and psych influences as they meander off the beaten track frequently; but always find their way home eventually. Even during this extended workout the guitarist plays with taste and no little restraint, he doesn’t feel the need to go crazy and shred although it’s pretty obvious he could if the need arose. Everything gels beautifully and the rhythm section again proves their worth with some stunning interplay.
‘Off At 11’ really is a crackin’ album. Blues purists might not be entirely willing to go along for the ride, but those with wider musical interests should enjoy this immensely. JD Simo is definitely one to watch.
Learn a little more about JD Simo: