A few years ago I helped by father-in-law record and produce a CD in his own living room. He, my wife, and his guitar player laid down their tracks live over the course of a couple nights of recording. After we found a couple of people to lay down the bass tracks, we mixed our four tracks down and had the analog tape transferred to digital. Unsophisticated and raw it might have been, but the sound quality was far superior to anything he would have managed to produce in a studio within his price range.
The hard part came after the recording of course; without the support of even the smallest of labels trying to package and distribute a CD is next to impossible. He sold it at his concerts and to his friends and in the end probably covered his costs for making the CDs (not including the outlay for the four-track). A lot has changed in the six years since we did that CD and now there are packages that an individual can purchase with independent studios which get them recording and distribution. It's like the deals that self-published authors are getting with a number of the self publishing book sites.
It means that anybody with a few thousand bucks at their disposal can march into a studio and come out the other side with a CD and at least some distribution and publicity. Maybe not very much, but enough to get you noticed beyond your own circle of friends and acquaintances. Recently the Federal Express driver who delivers a fair number of my review materials asked me if I'd listen to one such disc. It was by a friend of his whom, like my father-in-law, had been kicking around the edges of the music industry for ages.
Aside from that and the title of his disc, Defining Moments, I don't know very much about L.W. Simms (the biography section of his Web-site is under construction). But you don't need to know very much about people to be able to listen and appreciate their music.
L.W. (Wayne) Simms' music follows a path that's been walked many times before; the country/folk sound that first started to become popular in the late '60s and that reached its peak in popularity in the mid to late '70s. I've always thought of the sound as being somewhat unique to Canada, but I think that's because the people who play the style of music that Wayne plays don't seem to get the big popularity of other types of music. It falls between too many cracks to be easily marketed by the corporations as it's not country enough to be country, rock enough to be rock, and he's not folk.
There were a slew of male Canadian performers who did this type of music 20 or 30 years ago with perhaps the most famous being Murray Mclaughlin, Valdy and Ray Materick. While they may have had little in common in terms of content, they all played music which was personal and emotional. What distinguished those three gentlemen from the pack was that on the whole they could write songs that were intelligent and never sentimental. They were honest and heartfelt without ever once trying to manipulate their listeners' emotions.
L. W. Simms has not only managed to emulate their means of expression, but also their ability to write and sing a song from the heart with honesty and integrity. He never once strays over into the "mellow" or over-produced sound that killed the integrity of folk music in the mid-70s or the cheap sentimentality that has ripped the heart and soul out of country music. His lyrics are primarily straightforward testimonials about the relationships between men and women, done in such a way that they sound like he's recounting his own experiences.
I know there are lot of people who sing in the first person about love and life, but for the most part they don't usually sound like they are talking about themselves. They either sound too slick to be believed or their lyrics are hackneyed and cliché ridden.
That's not the case with the lyrics on Defining Moments. Wayne uses imagery that has poetry appropriate to the music and the people he sings about. These are real, down to earth folk who have to work for a living, so to sing about them using flowery language would not only be silly but sound stupid. At the same time that doesn't mean they don't have souls and can't feel things in their hearts.
The opening song on the disc, "Never Far Away," is a lovely example of this. It tells of two people falling in love while staying in a cabin out by Lake Nipissing, and Simms uses imagery from their surroundings to show that development. Nothing elaborate or overly romanticized, but perfect to the moment and the situation.
Musically it's pretty much what you'd expect, but well played and stripped down to an almost completely natural sound with very little obvious effects added on. There are some wonderful leads, on mandolin and steel guitar in particular, by Wendell Ferguson and Doug Johnson respectively, but aside from that the only ornamentation comes from the harmonizing of Maryellen Allen and Jim Hopson who do a great job of contrasting with Wayne's lead vocals.
Wayne isn't going to win any awards for his vocal prowess, but this type of music is more dependent on our willingness to believe what is sung than how pretty it sounds. A voice that cracks with emotion and sounds like it has lived a bit of a hard life is far more appropriate for this music than one with the ability to hit high "C" or that sounds as smooth as silk.
Defining Moments by L. W. (Wayne) Simms doesn't cover any new territory musically, but it's a fine collection of honest and heartfelt music – something there's a decided lack of these days. You can buy the whole disc or individual songs from Wayne's web site or through Well Craft Music. I don't think you'll regret it.