Monday, November 30, 2015

Stephen Simmonds-Spirit Tales (1998)

ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: November 30, 2015

I'd gotten into the spirit of exploring new and unfamiliar pop artists from the 90's earlier last week, an endeavor that saw me trekking back to my favorite Scandinavian country—that would be Sweden, of course!—and becoming acquainted with the marvelous soulful voice of a guy named Stephen Simmonds. Although I could have started with his proper debut album from 1997 entitled "Alone", I realized that his sophomore effort, "Spirit Tales", was virtually a re-release of that debut as it possessed an identical track-listing. Besides that, I just personally found the title "Spirit Tales" to be more captivating and meaningful and its accompanying alternate cover design to be more visually appealing. But to get the real story on this Swedish singer, I had to look beyond that cover, taking in every one of the fourteen individual chapters with an open heart and an open mind. As soon as my ears received the smooth grooves and his refreshing voice on the opener, "I Can't Do That", I knew that this would be one story that I'd have to keep reading—all the way to the final page. Interestingly enough, the song that was both the title track and the opening track to Stephen's proper debut album became the very first song that would take hold of me. A lot of soul-searching goes on here as the Swedish singer tells about his inner struggles of dealing with not having anyone in his life and feeling nothing but pain, the intense piano accompaniment perfectly personifying the dark emotions expressed in the lyrics. "Universe" is a beauty of a slow gem that has a revitalizing ethnic, ambient feel. In fact, Stephen takes the nice-n'-slow approach during the majority of this "Spirit Tales" journey, warming the soul further on the love dedication "For You" and the piano ballad "All The People". Though his greatest slow gems shine through with "Get Down" (a definite production highlight with the organ and the funky jazz groove propelling the music here), the haunting "Tears Never Dry" (a second production masterpiece with the somber melody, scintillating orchestral overtures and the angelic, almost ghostly backup vocals of house singer Lisa Nilsson), the acoustic piano piece entitled "One" (this is a great place to take in that marvelous soulful voice of his!) and "Let It Go", which gets special honorable mention from me because it blows up into a dizzying, exhilarating jazz explosion by the time the song reaches its closing movements. He does turn up the tempo a few times during this spiritual journey—first on "If I Was Your Man", followed by "Now's The Time" (one that I personally favor) and the final cut, "Judgement Day", where the music production does indeed feel like a 'judgement day' of epic Armageddon proportions with the amazing vocal and instrumental explosion that erupts in the closeout movements in uncannily similar fashion to the way the music suddenly intensifies towards the end of "Let It Go". So I'm placing a bookmark here at this juncture of the Stephen Simmonds discography; I'm looking forward to leafing through the pages in his next volume:

1. I Can't Do That
2. Alone
3. Universe
4. Get Down
5. I Hope U Do
6. Tears Never Dry
7. Searchin'
8. For You
9. If I Was Your Man
10. Let It Go
11. One
12. Now's The Time
13. All The People
14. Judgement Day

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