There’s no getting around the fact that, at first glance, Sylvie Simmons’s debut album is quite a tough sell. Simmons is best known as a writer: LA correspondent for Sounds in the 70s, Kerrang’s hair metal expert in the 80s, latterly Mojo’s Americana critic and author of acclaimed biographies of Serge Gainsbourg and Leonard Cohen. There aren’t supposed to be many rules for rock journalists, but one pretty incontrovertible one is: for God’s sake, don’t make your own music.
Sometimes a great notion, a rock journalist makes an album. In the case of Sylvie Simmons, author of acclaimed biographies that wander deep into the psyches of Leonard Cohen and Serge Gainsbourg, one might have expected a suite that majors on smoky poignancy, but not perhaps a voice of such fragile, chandelier-lit glamour. Who knew? Evidently Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb did because he coaxed the lady into sending him enough songs to furnish a debut that’s redolent of chanson with a pleasing echo of Dean and Britta or Nino Tempo and April Stevens.
While there's a fairly long list of musicians who dabbled as rock writers before they clicked as performers -- Chrissie Hynde, Ira Kaplan, and Shane MacGowan are among the better-known examples -- there aren't nearly as many successful music scribes who took up performing after they earned a reputation for their way with words. One of the few was Lester Bangs, the enlightened lunatic who made Creem Magazine a force to be reckoned with in the '70s and cut a pair of strong albums before his death in 1982, but now the late Mr. Bangs has a rival in Sylvie Simmons, a veteran music journalist who has been covering rock & roll since the mid-'70s and has seen her byline in nearly every major music magazine.