Bill Sims is a 50-year-old black man whose biracial family was the subject of a recent 10-hour documentary on PBS entitled An American Love Story. PBS released this eponymous blues album in conjunction with the documentary.
Surprisingly, it's a terrific blues collection from Sims, an obscure musician who grew up in Ohio and enjoyed modest success as a member of the Four Mints in the '70s. Bill Sims is a masterful blend of horn-driven B.B. King-style blues, sophisticated acoustic blues, zydeco and urban soul. Sims' gentle vocals wring every bit of soul out of these 12 solid tunes. His soothing voice is part Bill Withers, part Aaron Neville. He also plays tasty guitar throughout.
The centerpiece of the album is the Marvin Gaye-like "Smoky City," a smooth urban groover featuring Chico Hamilton's vapory sax and Sims and his daughter Chaney on cool vocals. "As The Years Go Passing By" is an emotive blues lament, while "Black Mare" is a Cajun two-stepper featuring Brian Mitchell on accordian. Mitchell also adds atmosphere to the sentimental "Just Like You," a catchy pop-oriented tune written by Keb Mo. Toss in some rocking modern blues and nice acoustic numbers, and Bill Sims is a solid, eclectic album.
Too bad Sims had to expose his life to the TV cameras in order to land a recording contract, but at least his music is being heard by a huge audience. He deserves it.
Rating *** 1/2 (out of ****)
Tracks: Time Out; I Want to See Again; Smoky City; Dark Moon Risin'; As the Year Go Passin' By; When Do I Get to Be Called a Man; Just Like You; Black Mare (Traditional); Blues for Breakfast; Mr. Airplane; Man Eater; Nobody's Fault But Mine (Traditional)
Players: Bill Sims (guitars, banjo, organ); Chico Freeman (tenor sax); Clark Gayton (trombone, tuba); Andy Hess (electric bass); Tony Mason (drums); Brian Mitchell (piano, accordian, organ); Donnie McCaslin (tenor sax); Pat Cisarano (vocals); Kenny Rampton (trumpet, cornet)