One could imagine that in Lubbock, Texas, a voice like Bob Simpson’s could be seen as a bit of a curse. It doesn’t fit the stereotype of a hard living musician playing gigs in honky tonks punctuated by cartons of cigarettes and shots of whiskey. Instead, his voice is pretty, and it accompanies his guitar picking more like James Taylor than what you what you would expect from a west Texas outlaw. Regional stereotypes set aside, his songwriting is top notch, and his 3rd record The Emperor’s New Moon, showcases the breadth of his influence across the spectrum of blues, country, and folk.
The album opens on a familiar note, with “A Thousand Kisses,” which is written loosely to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings.” In the second verse he doubles down on the homage. “I’m not out seeking sorrow or shelter from the storm/ or looking for salvation in the places you were born.” Unlike Dylan’s 1964 song, Simpson’s is upbeat and optimistic. “You’re a thousand kisses far from me, but you’re always on my mind.”
The record takes a turn towards the modern on track 4, “Tell Me,” which opens with a lick of steel guitar and is driven by a steady kick drum through its duration. It’s a song that’s both high energy and harsh, in which Simpson seems to be pleading with an old lover to keep her distance for both of their sakes:
I woke up at 6 am, and I had to get myself back home again,
My thoughts were racing down a dead end road,
where I left your memory in a cloud of smoke.
“Tell me” is modern country at its best – intimate enough for a coffee shop or big enough to travel with is own lightshow. It’s a vibe that Simpson keeps up on the next track, “I Get Lonely,” which features a similar production of percussion, harmonizing backup vocals, bass, and steel guitar. Simpson shows off his vocal range in this one, pushing his voice into his head from time to time, to let the song’s hook, “I get lonely” ring out. It’s a beautifully written and produced song that – as a single – could easily find a home on pop country radio.
The next song, “Till I Find My Way Back Home,” is where James Taylor seems to inhabit Simpson’s guitar playing and vocal chords. It’s an artfully plucked acoustic ballad which showcases the writer’s ability to craft a melody pretty enough that the depth of the lyric’s sadness won’t hit you until you really stop and listen.
“With a heart full of misery and a pocket full of sin, I’ve been trying to dig myself out of this place that I’ve been in,” he sings. And later, “The things that I’ve grown used to, in all of my time, It seems the hardest ones to hold still live forever in my mind.”
The album closes on a lone resonator guitar echoing in a big, hollow room. The final track, “Hangman” isn’t quite set to the tune of “White Freightliner Blues,” but the sentiment will leave you swearing you’ve heard this song before. It’s the black sheep of the record – not fully produced, but enhanced by its simplicity. It harkens to a tradition where players stood around a mic and cut a track in real time without the aid of pre-amps and Protools. When Simpson sings “Nobody knows my empty soul, their taking me to the gallows pole, won’t you bring back that love that I stole and give it to my Rosalee,” you swear it’s a traditional song from ages ago.
The Emperor’s New Moon is a strong third record by Lubbock’s Bob Simpson that showcases both his crooning voice and songwriting. While Simpson spans a breadth of Americana styles, he really shines with his hit-worthy modern country songwriting, on songs like “I Get Lonely,” and “Tell Me.” I’m keeping my fingers crossed that somewhere – at least on the rolling hills of Texas – a DJ will take notice. https://www.bobsimpsonmusic.com