(Honest Jon’s Records)
Without paying close attention, Simone White may come off as
merely another quirky, delicate ingénue upon first listening. But start peeling
away the outer layers and a strong, dark, and challenging artist is revealed.
She sings like a beautiful bird with a broken wing. Her best songs – “Victoria
Anne,” “Yakiimo,” and “A Girl You Never Met” – float like dreamy, acoustic-folk
Americana visions atop acoustic guitars and fine fiddle playing from Billy
Contreras (Robinella & The CC String Band). It’s like discovering Gillian
Welch has a reclusively mysterious and shy, yet somehow urbane kid sister who’s
finally decided to share her personal observations with the world.
“A Girl You Never Met” is a stunningly compassionate ballad
about an elderly friend who is tired of life. The lyric is so brutal and honest
that after listening to it you feel you have met this ‘girl’ and want to shake her yelling, “Don’t do it! I’ve met you!”
It’s a dark space but there’s more human understanding in this one tune than
most artists amass in an entire career.
On the surface “Candy Bar Killer” is a breezy summer
afternoon underscored with jangly major key indie-pop guitars and sung with a
tone of innocence. But White describes the tune as being “about sordid
goings-on at a teen [birthday] party.” Here’s the key lyric: “There
was a yellow bottle/Dropping white pills into pink lemonade/Now they call her
the candy bar killer/For the wrapper she left by his side/It’s such fun to be
beautiful and young she cried.” There’s an intentionally ironic disconnect
between the light tone of the music and the dark action in the lyric. It’s some
eerie shit and is reminiscent of Sophia Coppola’s portrait of troubled girls Virgin Suicides.
One of two main issues with Yakiimo is White’s style of singing. She has a wonderfully
distinctive voice but too often resorts to overly stylistic “whispering.” What
starts out as intriguing can turn annoying if overdone. She regularly sings
like “a sound trying not to make a sound.” Sure, a whisper can grab your
attention, but it can also annoy the piss out of you – like Seinfeld’s “low
talker.” Generally it works for White, but the ironic pose of the coy
girl/woman singing shyly about suicide, throwing kittens into a river, or
burning love down like a straw house can also become annoyingly distracting
when it’s laid on too thick.
The other issue is that the better material on Yakiimo is so distinctive that it
powerfully distracts from a significant amount of filler which, while decently
performed, is perfectly appropriate for bland adult-contemporary pop radio.
When White puts out an album with nothing but songs like the best ones from Yakiimo, she’ll have a
Tracks: “Victoria Anne,” “Yakiimo,” “A Girl You Never Met” JOHN