The beauty of JD Simo’s Mind Control, his third studio album, comes in two parts. Part one is how much air he allows within the tracks, with big grooves that provide plenty of room for his guitar. And part two is the guitar work itself, which features cool licks with a trippy edge. Put together, it results in a collection of songs that won’t appear in a beer commercial, but which represents a fun, accessible journey through bluesy, Jimi Hendrix-inspired jazz and rock.
Simo, who’s played with everyone from Jack White, to the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh, to the ubiquitous Luther Dickinson, has picked up a wide range of musical influences and seamlessly integrates them into an album that, like so many, came out of lockdown. In Simo’s case, that meant weekly studio meetings with drummer Adam Abrashoff and bassist/producer/engineer Adam Bednarik. The time was well-spent because while there’s not much formal song structure here, the interplay between the three musicians is riveting.
For instance, “Let Go,” is hill country blues, with a dizzying slide riff and a groove that, if it were a little heavier, would fit right in on a heavy metal record. Simo’s guitar cuts through the tune, his rhythm section holding the song together while he’s sliding along. It’s a strong track, but not the type of thing you could re-create on an acoustic guitar. The song isn’t the key ingredient; it’s the band that makes it all work.
As good a guitar player as Simo is—and he’s good—he’s an equally talented vocalist, with a bluesy-but-natural voice. There’s plenty of straight-forward singing, but he also does some fascinating chanting within songs, repeating refrains, almost like scatting, except he’s singing words. He uses the technique on “Go Away Satan,” a spacey jam reminiscent of Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis. As he leads the song into its chorus, he repeats “Go away, go away,” almost trying to pray Satan away. He does something similar on the bluesier “Want What I Don’t Have,” singing “I just want to be liked,” in slight variations, like the words are a riff he’s playing in different styles.
And then there’s “I’m In Love,” where it sounds like Simo is singing from the bottom of a well while he fires bluesy guitar riffs over a bouncing rhythm, sometimes singing along with his guitar, and sometimes letting the guitar sing the lead. It’s a weird song, without many comparables, but it’s thrilling listening.
There’s a strong Hendrix spirit on Mind Control. One of the things lots of blues guitarists focus upon when they’re channeling Hendrix is his more incendiary guitar-soloing moments (literal and figurative), especially the ones that came out of his work with the Experience. But Hendrix’s latter work was equally reliant upon grooves and sonic textures. He wasn’t soloing, but rather spontaneously composing. That aspect of Hendrix’s work isn’t lost on Simo. Listening to all of the disparate sounds and styles here, it doesn’t seem like he misses many aspects of music, not matter how subtle.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Want What I Don’t Have
– Go Away Satan
– I’m In LoveZ
– Let Go
The Big Hit
– Let Go