Joyce Sims - Love Song (album review)

Joyce Sims
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With three decades of recording already on her resume, the fact that Love Song is only the fourth album release from Joyce Sims speaks to just how diffcult the music business can be for independent artists who choose to put songs and vocals ahead of image and trendiness. The Rochester, New York native made a major impression on the global soul scene with self-penned dance gems such as “All and All” and “Lifetime Love” and then, with the groundbreaking beat-ballad, “Come into My Life,” a top-10 R&B hit in both the US and UK.

With three decades of recording already on her resume, the fact that Love Song is only the fourth album release from Joyce Sims speaks to just how diffcult the music business can be for independent artists who choose to put songs and vocals ahead of image and trendiness. The Rochester, New York native made a major impression on the global soul scene with self-penned dance gems such as “All and All” and “Lifetime Love” and then, with the groundbreaking beat-ballad, “Come into My Life,” a top-10 R&B hit in both the US and UK.

At the time signed to the hip-hop-oriented Sleeping Bag Records, Sims’ success was remarkable for a female singer-songwriter without major-label distribution. Disappointingly, that reality became clear at the beginning of the 1990s when Sleeping Bag folded and Sims’ output subsequently slowed. Aside from several single releases afterwards, it wasn’t until 2006 that she resumed an active recording and performing schedule with the release of A New Beginning on her own label.

Since A New Beginning, Sims has put out a number of singles and headlined many live showcases throughout Europe. The arrival of Love Song is the culmination of much of that work, along with an ample selection of fresh material that maintains unmistakable elements of her signature sound while adding in some modern touches for good balance. Certainly, it’s a challenge for a vocalist and composer such as her—who’s strongly associated with a particular time period and musical style, yet has the ability to do much more than those limits suggest—to deliver a set which will satisfy both hardcore fans of her early work and newer listeners who expect something in line with contemporary hits. She’s done a commendable job of straddling that fence, staying true to her unique tone and understated vocal approach while simultaneously dabbling in a few rhythmic contexts different from her previous outings.

The simply yet fittingly titled Love Song opens with the summery, pop-tinged “All I Want Is You,” a youthful uptempo number with a familiar-sounding keyboard ostinato that fits in nicely with the mellow melodies and metaphorical lyrics. “Been in the market for something that’s new, got money in my pocket and all I want is you,” Sims croons softly during the first verse. Although the musical arrangement could easily fit into a top-40 format, the subtlety of Sims’ performance and the ultimate focus on the song (not the underlying sound) makes the tune one that will also appeal to longtime listeners. Even more so, the subsequent “Did It Done It” takes up the kinetic stance a bit, adding in a slightly retro party vibe and a more assertive delivery which are well matched to the engaging beat and straight-ahead rap intro. “Did it, done it, now I’m good to go/It’s overdone, thought I’d let you know/Bit the bullet, now it’s time to go”…a clear message of self-empowerment that will likely resonate with audiences across the board.

Following these two enjoyable tracks, the somewhat outdated-sounding “Until” falls short with unimpressive vocal effects and lyrics that aren’t quite up to par; but Sims quickly regains her momentum with the groovy “Running Back to You,” a swaying number which highlights her strengths with a relaxed yet firm interpretation of melodies that harken back to her frequently overlooked 1989 album, All about Love. Similarly, the cool and swingin’ “Saving All My Love” directly revisits lines from “Come into My Life” with a new spin and breezy rhythm. Further standouts include the nostalgic and danceable “Wishing You Were Here” and the atmospheric “Dreaming.” The latter, in particular, flows seamlessly with pure melody lines and self-harmonizing set atop a soulful house groove.

The celebratory “Back in Love” serves as an ideal closer of Love Song, interjecting dissonant nuances into the verses, aptly displaying Sims’ lovely soprano range alongside vibrant horn sounds and creative, percussive patterns. The song’s feel-good premise is at once uncomplicated and sophisticated, brought forth with a vocal zest that needs no frills to get the point across. Both of these qualities are what makes Sims a viable writer and singer whose music at large is not defined by age or arrangement, but by grace and presentation. Recommended.

 

by Justin Kantor

 

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