The times we’re living in have been pretty murky on the music tip. Over the last few years, we’ve been subjected to a blur of Kewpie doll ingénues masking their shit vocals in bleeps and blips and hypermasculine hip-hop cartoons with little to no redeeming value. So I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across an article in the Express newspaper a while back about singer-guitarist Keaton Simons’ latest release. His CBS Records debut, the freewheeling “Can You Hear Me,” is one of the best records I’ve heard this year. Light and lean, it’s the perfect summer record and showcases a young voice with quite a bit of potential.
Simons, who’ll appear Aug. 24 at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Va., on the Sweep the Leg Tour, has a mastery of rollicking, rootsy blues-rock that’s wise beyond his years. His resume is a musical gumbo of sorts, as the young singer has notched stints with everyone from The Pharcyde’s Tre Hardson to Brand New Heavies chanteuse N’Dea Davenport. The open tone of the West Coast music scene is prevalent in Simons’ approach, a sensibility perfected across past efforts “Currently” and “Exes and Whys” and expertly executed on “Can You Hear Me.” There’s a soulful sweetening to the sparse, guitar-sprinkled arrangements of the album’s 11 cuts that suits the rasp of Simons’ vocals to a tee. Whether singing about the secret joy of forbidden love on “Nobody Knows” or relaying the sunny ode to optimism that is the lead single “Good Things Get Better,” Simons brings quite a bit of charm and exuberance to his material. But the singer rocks hardest on “Mama Song,” a frenzy of fuzzy guitar that’s as unrestrained and ballsy as a mid-nineties Lenny Kravitz groove. A little edge goes a long away, and it’s a look that works for him.
Most of the album, however, is in the confessional singer-songwriter vein perfected by the likes of Carly Simon and Stephen Bishop many moons ago. “Unstoppable,” “To Me,” and “Currently” are paeans to the many sides of love that are notable for both their introspective narratives and ripe sensuality. Such intimacy beams brightest on “Without Your Skin,” the opening track and arguably the strongest among the lot. When he sings “without your skin … I’m naked,” you feel it – and sensuality morphs into untouched sexiness in one vocal swoop. Simons’ understanding of bringing across a variety of emotions is his trump card, the asset that raises him above the mediocrity of the pack.
In short, “Can You Hear Me” is an outstanding record, another step in Simons’ move into the league of extraordinary singing tunesmiths. Not too brash and not too mellow, Simons’ brand is one that will grow more and more appealing as the passage of time seasons his craft.
He says it himself, after all: Good things get better.
Keaton Simons will appear at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Va., on Aug. 24 as part of the Sweep the Leg Tour. For more information, click here.
Check him out singing “Good Things Get Better” below.