Janet Simpson’s Safe Distance is an album for those of us who love country music but didn’t bother to watch the CMA show yet have an enduring love for the genuine music of Lucinda Williams, Kelly Willis, Margo Price, Jenny Lewis, and Shelby Lynne.
Amid a really nice rocking chord progression, Janet declares that “I ain’t none of these Nashville girls”. Now, that’s not exactly the Sex Pistols spitting, “God save the queen”, but it’s still pretty authentic transistor radio Patsy Cline fringed jacket Ernest Tubb Record Store cool. Not only that, but, in true good-humoured irony, the tune is the perfect country rock song sung by someone who (apparently) loves Nashville about as much as those Sex Pistols loved their queen.
The great Ray Davies wrote ‘Too Hot’—set to the perfect 80’s Jane Fonda workout beat, yet it decries the then-current trend to hit the gym! And could any disc jockey ever ask for a more infection tune than Elvis Costello’s ‘Radio, Radio’.
Clever is as clever does!
And, to get all literary, the tune could be the soundtrack for the bit in Death Of A Salesman where Biff Loman says (with final dramatic wisdom), “Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be…When all I want is out there waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am”.
And there’s nary a cliched pedal-steel guitar sound to be found on this record!
That all said, then things get really interesting: ‘Slip’ is slow with lonesome notes and sings with the forlorn (and wonderfully mumbled) weariness of Lucinda Williams. That’s a bit compliment! In contrast, ‘Reno’ is a rockin’ testament to loving someone who “is nowhere to be found”. And the electric guitar punches at that same someone who “ate all my honey and drank up all the wine”. Then, ‘Awe & Wonder’ really slow dances things down with a shuffled soulful voice and a deep-sea diving bass guitar, with a patient and very lovely organ.
But this is an album of nice contrasts. ‘I’m Wrong’, again, country rocks with the beauty of signs everywhere that are still lit with aging neon lights that point to the nearest honky-tonk tune. And the title song, ‘Safe Distance’, is anything but sedate, as it dances with an open throttled guitar stomp with a wild vocal that should, on any blessed Saturday night, drink into the eternity of one more really melodic (and also very blessed) cold American tapped beer. This one howls all the way from Janet’s native Alabama!
There are lovely slow tunes. ‘Ain’t Nobody’ is slow and it touches gentle wood. Once again, it sheds a spotlight on yet another colour in the palette of JS’s voice. Then, the gorgeous ‘Black Turns To Blue’ is heaven sent acoustic guitar (with fret fingered movement to enhance the solitary sound) and votive candle vocal that is simply a really decent prayer in a world that, sadly, rarely delivers such a really decent prayer. ‘Double Lines’ is spooky with a surreal vibe that plays like a soundtrack to a late-night bonfire, with an unfinished ghost story left in its still smokey embers. And the strummed ‘Silverman Mountain’ (with a nice electric guitar) consumes all the air in the room like a Neil Young song about “a town in north Ontario”.
Safe Distance ends with a quick and upbeat song, ‘Wrecked’, which sort of whistles in an elevator (Thank you once again Biff Loman!), walks away on its very own musical terms and just sings a really nonchalant final groove, that says to a Nashville world, the very same words of (the already mentioned) Kinks guy Ray Davies: “I’m not like everybody else”.
Artist’s website: https://www.janetsimpsonmusic.com
‘Nashville Girls’ – official video: