Dandelions – Reviews
Like her previous recordings (Take Me Home on 33 Records, Different Smile on Fast Awake), singer/songwriter Kaz Simmons’s Dandelions is an intensely personal, not to say downright intimately confessional album, detailing her state of mind regarding personal insecurities, reaction to romantic rejection, even travelling problems etc., but the insinuating charm of her melodies and her easy-on-the-ear vocals ensure that her admirers will find as much to enjoy here as from her back catalogue.
She also has great taste in backing musicians: pianist Ivo Neame, bassist/arranger Riaan Vosloo, reeds player James Allsopp, drummers Dave Smith and Tim Giles, among others, are all involved in a classy, understated production.
Her slightly fey lyrics might not display the brazenness of much contemporary Facebook-generation personal discourse, but sympathetic souls will appreciate her gentle candour and sincere ingenuousness, and the album as a whole certainly provides a welcome antidote to the macho posturing of much contemporary pop, male and female. Chris Parker, LondonJazz
Kaz Simmons (@KazSimmons) is an exquisite British singer-songwriter who’s been performing from an early age.
Schooled in music at Goldsmiths University and Trinity College of Music and with two previous musical releases under her belt, interest in Kaz’s music is gaining serious momentum. So much so, tracks from her latest album Dandelions have been given national airplay on Jamie Cullum’s BBC Radio2 show, not to mention additional local radio stations.
There’s no doubt about it, Kaz’s voice is pure. The opening of Dandelions greets us with her quintessentially English vocal, which is both soft and natural sounding. Her vocal quality is constant throughout the 8-track recording and her gentleness in her vocal delivery is a refreshing step away from her current contemporaries.
Kaz plays a Jose Ramirez 4CWE guitar and it sounds fantastic. She’s is no slouch on the guitar either; playing brilliantly throughout and I’m intrigued to know what chord fingerings are used and if she adopts any alternate tunings.
Dandelions features all original songs with classical guitar styles fused with jazz, folk and pop influences. Kaz describes the album as having a “summery sound” – I agree, however I’d like to expand on that by saying the music is somewhat left-field at times, often embracing a mysterious psychedelic approach, even conjuring images of a fairly tale.
Another aspect to the album I was particularly taken by was the standard and approach to the bass and drum playing. A couple of different individuals share the respective duties and they really helped support the vibe of the album.
Dandelions is an excellent listen and a real breath of fresh air. The production is good (Benedic Lamdin and Riaan Vosloo of Nostalgia 77) and each of the 8 tracks presents a varied blend of influences and styles.
If you fancy listening to something laidback but highly interesting, you can’t go wrong with this offering.
Let’s hope Kaz Simmons gets the exposure she deserves. For more information, visit: www.kazsimmons.com. Sam Davis, Guitar Jar
Combining a voice of crystalline purity, a neat lyrical touch, some superb backing musicians and a few lushly romantic arrangements, Kaz Simmons’ Dandelions has a gorgeous heart and a few twists and turns that surprise, delight and occasionally mystify by turn.
This is Simmons’ third album: the second on her own Fast Awake label, following 2007′s Different Smile. While she has referred to Dandelions as being “less jazz” than her previous recordings, which have featured standards like “Cheek To Cheek” and “Moon River,” it might be more accurate to refer to the music as “different jazz,” for she has by no means abandoned the genre, even if all of the songs here are original compositions and the core sound comes from her voice and finger-picked guitar. There is a definite jazz sensibility across the songs, just not the American Songbook sort.
Simmons’ voice is a joyous thing, bright and welcoming, it somehow keeps sounding positive and optimistic even when her lyrics are more melancholy and reflective. Simmons refers to Rufus Wainwright and Radiohead as influences, while indie bands such as Blur and The Sundays have also been mentioned. But her vocal sound has much in common with British singers who emerged from the ’60s and ’70s folk scene, like Judy Dyble or Jacquie McShee.
The backing musicians include some of the finest young players on the British jazz scene, and an excellent string quartet that includes violinist Max Baillie, who has played with the innovative percussionist Seb Rochford. Their playing, coupled with bassist/co-producerRiaan Vosloo‘s arrangements, builds on Simmons’ songs to create some beautiful moments.
“Stuck” is a delightful song, with its reference to the “wrong type of leaves on the tracks” that bring the British railway system to a halt. When Simmons sings that it will soon be Christmas, Ivo Neame‘s simple piano phrase immediately captures the sensation of winter. The beautiful “Almost,” with just Simmons’ voice and guitar, is sad but ultimately hopeful. On “The Wall” Simmons’ voice is briefly reminiscent of Kate Bush while her arrangement mixes Sam Crockatt‘s tenor saxophone, Fulvio Sigurta‘s trumpet and her own backing vocals into a soft wash of sound. “The Dandelion Song,” characterized by James Allsopp’s lovely bass clarinet, finds Simmons at her most whimsical—at least so it seems at first. But the story of the man who “blew her away like a dandelion” may hint at something darker.
Three albums into her career Simmons now has the confidence to let her own songs take center stage, and rightly so. Dandelions charms and teases, tells stories, and conjures up moods and emotions to match. Bruce Lindsay, All About Jazz
(Of The Dandelion Song) “Your lyrics are fantastic…You are absolutely unique.” JoAnne Good, BBC Radio London
Bryter future for Kaz:
I can pay no greater compliment to Kaz Simmons than to say her new album Dandelions transported me back four decades to the day when, as a teenager, I stumbled across the then unknown Nick Drake. His Bryter Layter remains, for me, one of the greatest records ever made – and has clearly influenced this latest set of songs from Simmons who, like him, is a singer/ guitarist.
The eight songs on Dandelions echo Drake’s unsurpassed gift for the killer modulation and the heartbreaking minor chord. And although Simmons’ voice lacks
the emotional richness of Drake’s, hers has an almost ethereal purity that wonderfully counterpoints the soulfulness of her selfpenned songs.
She also benefits from some lovely arrangements by coproducer Riaan Vosloo – what’s not to love when a bass clarinet is introduced? – and some excellent backing musicians, most notably Ivo Neame on piano.
The stand-out songs are the quirky title track, the achingly beautiful Almost and the genre-jumping finale, The End.
Simmons is playing Oliver’s in Nevada Street, Greenwich, on November 13 and its intimate atmosphere should be perfect for her. Miss it at your peril.
Dandelions is out now on Fast Awake Records. Miles Hedley, The Greenwich Visitor
For her third CD this London-based young singer-songwriter/guitarist lays down a distinctive set of originals with an agreeable late 60s psych-folk-ish vibe, and features a strings section as well as a group of young jazz guns including Ivo Neame and Riaan Vosloo. Sewlyn Harris, Jazzwise
Singer-songwriters seem to be popping up all over the place at the moment, so it is increasingly difficult for any to get noticed. If you can put together a few chords on a guitar and have a half-decent voice it appears to be the done thing to put together an album and release it independently. Kaz Simmons Dandelions is just the latest attempt to offer something a little different; and to her credit the singer manages to impress. Delicate and subtle, her voice has a more interesting edge that gives the disc a deliciously quirky edge and the autobiographical nature of the tracks here give the music a real heart. It’s a jazz-pop-folk combination providing ample variety and by running to only eight tracks, Dandelions is of a length that means it never outstays its welcome; in a genre that often gets forgotten as dinner party backing music Simmons succeeds in creating a talking point. Colin Polonowski, Music at The Digital Fix
Extract of a review of the launch gig at The Forge:
It is always wonderful to see a performer truly enjoy her work, and nothing could have been more apparent last night as Kaz Simmons took to the stage at The Forge in Camden to celebrate the release of her third album, Dandelions. The singer-songwriter’s beaming smile lit up the venue throughout her extensive set – which also featured a few covers from timeless greats such as Nina Simone and Dusty Springfield, as well as songs from her first two albums, Take Me Home and Different Smile… From hard-hitting, commercially viable pop songs such as Whatever and Dandelions, to sombre, heart-aching love ballads like Almost, Kaz’s music certainly has the ability to both delight and deeply affect an audience. A lady in the front row was visibly moved to tears during one of Kaz’s typically heart-wrenching reflections upon a relationship lost in Almost, while the whole crowd were bouncing up and down in their seats to the fast-paced Spanish number, Taco, Taco, Taco. As with all good gigs there was time for a few anecdotes, and the crowd was won over from the moment Kaz bemoaned the capital’s quirks, highlighting, as a girl who lives in Greenwich, the failures of the Jubilee Line, before revealing how she wrote a song about Vanessa Feltz’s sarcastic suggestion on BBC London (during the expenses scandal) that ‘it’s nice to wake up and find out what you paid for’. The arrangements and execution of the songs themselves were faultless, with Kaz herself paying tribute to what she referred to as the ‘fantastic’ arrangements of double bass player Riaan Vosloo, who was almost single-handedly responsible for every arrangement on the new album… This truly was a performance of high class and exquisite variation, while Kaz’s voice is pure, natural and seemingly effortless in its beauty and robustness. At the launch of this, her third album and the second to be released under her own label, it is a wonder that this gem remains still relatively hidden. Steve Dew-Jones, The London Word
Released on her own label, Dandelions showcases Simmons’s talents as a singer-songwriter. Billed as an intimate collection of autobiographical songs, the album contains eight songs that fuse Spanish and classical guitar with Brazilian, pop and jazz influences. The music has a summery folk-pop acoustic flavour which, when combined with Simmons’s enunciated vocal delivery and lyrical concern with everyday incidents, brings to mind the music of the 1990s indie stalwarts The Sundays, especially on the second track ‘Stand’, (sic. – should be Stuck) with its repeating refrain: ‘The wrong type of leaves on the track today…’ Other highlights include the intimate acoustic guitar and voice of ‘Almost’, and ‘The End’, which is a poem by James Wallace that Simmons has set to music. Gareth L Powell, Acoustic Magazine
The album starts with a groovy laid-back tune called ‘whatever’, then tunes in to the suggestive reflection ‘stuck’, and from there Simmons takes us into’ Pacharama’, her memories of a trip to the jungle, to times long gone by. Time for the best song of the album, the title-track: ‘The dandelion’ with it’s intricate harmonies and weeping guitar. The magic starts and leads us into to a piece called ‘almost’, where we truly can enjoy the delicate voice of Kaz. After this melody comes ‘the wall’, a murky jazz reflection with the message of ‘just do it’, don’t talk. Time goes fast. Next song has truly wonderful string-arrangements, it’s “Nice life” a mellow song which i have come to like more with the number of times i’ve listened to this album.Dandelions ends appropriately with ‘the end’ a melody that takes us back into reality again. This is the perfect foreplay into writing that letter you knew you always should have written. Do it now. ederBlog
On a more straight up jazz tip, keep your ears peeled for vocalist Kaz Simmons. Hailing from Hove on the south coast, but now based in the capital, she has three albums to her name. The latest, Dandelions is a favourite of Jamie Cullum’s and is produced by the brilliant Nostalgia 77 and long time collaborator Riaan Vosloo (bass player from the N77 band). It’s a classy collection of original tunes that owe as much to pop and folk as they do jazz. Well worth a listen. Dom Servini, Echoes Magazine
Fusing jazz, Spanish and classical guitar sounds and pop influences, “Dandelions” is a complex record but comes together into a surprisingly cohesive whole.
Kaz’s vocals are smooth and emotive and she has a big range; she is backed on the album by a huge array of performers on cello, violin, bass, piano, brass and drums, despite this though the songs can sound almost intimate as the use is often subtle. ‘Pachamama’ for instance meanders pleasantly for its six minute length, complex jazz-style percussion melds with theatrical touches, interesting key changes and minimal moments where just strings take over. ‘The Wall’ and ‘Nice Life’ are great tracks, very filmic, with clarinet, piano and cello creating a thoughtful, melancholic mood.
Refusing to adhere to traditional pop song structures, the mixing of styles on “Dandelions” is to be applauded. Kaz retains her strong English accent, which adds to the charm of many of the tracks like ‘The Dandelion Song’; a piece that has those charming vocals with quirky rhythms and a catchy melody to hold it all together. The gentle, meandering style of this record, with its constant twisting and turning makes the obviously complex structures sound easy to perform, but clearly they are not. Emma Gould, Roomthirteen.com