Cherry Red 2017
Forging most famous sword, French auteur opens up much wider vistas for all to admire.
To summarize 35 years of continuous creativity in 40 tracks must be a daunting task, yet Alan Simon has never shied away from a good challenge. His name a synonym for a rock opera and multi-faceted collaboration – first and foremost for the “Excalibur” series – there’s actually much more to the Brittany-born artist, and the two discs of “Songwriter” are a case in point. With “World And Symphonic Side” being mostly instrumental and “British Side” vocal-centric, it’s rewarding to see how Simon’s many guests add color and nuance to his pieces rather than simply draw attention on the strength of their glory. Still, it’s the strength of Alan’s own writing that’s the focus here – hence the title – which explains why the composer chose perhaps not the brightest but arguably the most exemplary numbers to represent his oeuvre.
No matter what the possible geography of his imaginary journeys is, there’s always distinct Gallic melodicism in the orchestral likes of “Les Cavaliers Du Vent” and down-to-earth, if irrepressibly romantic songs such as “Adela” – the sole previously unreleased cut on the collection spanning a great part of Alan’s albums, including the less known “Cap’taine Kid” and “O Gengis !” OST alongside “Tristan & Yseult” and “Gaïa” which brought Simon fame and, arguably, fortune. New-age oozing out of a few ballads on display doesn’t feel hollow or too ethereal, although it’s this misty quality that infuses Jon Anderson‘s heavenly pipes with gravity on “Circle Of Life” and makes John Wetton‘s voice so arrestingly tremulous and vulnerable in “The Vision” to blend into rural sincerity, yet it takes Jeremy Spencer‘s brittle delivery to turn “Angel’s Tears” into diamonds.
And this is another reason why Simon’s approach is special: for all his Celtic scope, Alan’s always ready to go beyond the obvious and, as a result, beyond the pale. That’s why Billy Preston sounds so organic in the Caribbean fabric of “Where Is The Way” and MIDNIGHT OIL sprinkle contemporary sheen over “No Man’s Land” whereas bossa nova rears its head in Cesária Évora’s handling of “Jangadero” in the most natural way. The piano-encrusted fragility of “World” would be painfully wondrous even without Brankica Vasić’s vocalese or Zucchero’s roar, while there’s a whole universe in the short “Dihun” whose inner space is expanded once male voices usher a thunderstorm, and a soft cosmos in “Come” which is caressed with Jesse Siebenberg’s gentle touch. Yet as far as electric folk intent goes, Martin Barre‘s guitar is gorgeous in the solemnly sad “Dun Aengus” and FAIRPORT CONVENTION sharpen the exquisite edge of “Castle Rock” to define its riff-laden belligerence.
It’s all varied and unified at the same time, “Saman” seeing Les Holroyd and Mick Fleetwood blow airiness into playful folk-rock, and the simple pop becoming soulful on “I’m Not the Only One” – smoothed with John Helliwell’s sax – which would appear on "Excalibur IV" to mark the latest, to the date, installment of Simon’s Arthurian saga and his last album released before this collection saw the light of day. Since then, there was a new rock opera staged, so when a follow-up to “Songwriter” appears (and Alan already plans it), filling another two discs with music will be a breeze.