Review: Music writer Sylvie Simmons’ 2nd album also a charm

Sylvie Simmons, "Blue On Blue" (Compass Records)

Respected music journalist Sylvie Simmons' second album, "Blue On Blue," is an intimate collection of sweet songs about romance, regret, experience and hope.

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With gentle plucks and strums, Simmons — whose biography of Leonard Cohen is an industry standard — sometimes makes her ukulele sound like a diminutive harp, a cozy combination with her gentle, serene voice.

Recording began in 2017, but an unspecified accident after the initial session left Simmons with broken bones, nerve damage and a severely impaired left hand.

No longer able to play some of the songs she wrote for the album, Simmons had to compose new ones.

A London native who made California her home decades ago, Simmons says that she used to roll her eyes when musicians she interviewed claimed not to know the origin of their songs, saying they were "channeling" them instead of being the result of a deliberate act.

Her own songwriting experiences have made her less skeptical of the ethereal influence on the process and she names "Creation Day," about yearning and finality, as one of the songs that appeared seemingly miraculously.

That it's one of the tunes, along with opener "Keep Dancing," where Cohen’s tones echo deeply may be more than a coincidence.

Howe Gelb’s production adds details — like supportive guitars, affable basses and chiming bells — that enhance but never overwhelm the singer or the songs, keeping their weary innocence intact.

Gelb’s duet with Simmons on album closer "1000 Years Before I Met You" is another highlight, an engaging song that picks up the pace, lists some country music clichés but claims its own identity with a hopeful ending.

There have been music writers who have gone on to bigger things as performers, such as The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde and the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, but Simmons’ musical career has developed while still an active and productive journalist.

Her 2014 debut, "Sylvie," was very well received not just by her fellow critics but by her by-now-fellow musicians.

With appealing grace and timeless style, "Blue On Blue" shows that the second time also can be a charm.

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