I recently watched a video of The Simple Things performing Flying Horses and two things struck me: If these guys can play a cubbyhole and make it sound good, they are good (they can), and Kaitlin McGaw has either a background in musical theater or has taken lessons (jury's still out on those two, though when I see her perform I plan to ask, and I will). You could see it in her presence—the breathing technique, the movement of extremities. If so, why The Simple Things? Why not musical theater?
Now, there's a stupid question. The first time I heard The Simple Things, I sat through it once, popped a can of beer and sat through it twice more. There was something about the wide variety of music within a thin range, so to speak, which made me want to hear it more closely. Flying Horses, the lead-in track, caught my ear and I prepared myself for a romp of light pop. Not to be. I proceeded to be regaled with songs which were in their own turn stage-ready (Ferris Wheel, Trapped In This Hotel), soulful (Gone, Gone), jazzy (What's Good For Me) and just damn impressive (the rest). The second and third had nothing to do with the beer (I had not opened the first until partway through the second listen), it was the music.
No, it was more than the music. As simple as the lineup is (McGaw, vocals; Raymond Ruiz, bass; and Michael Gallant, keyboards), the music is not. You have to give a large part of the credit to the latter two—Ruiz, who has an intriguing style on bass which ranges from rolling and rambling to underlying depth charge, and Gallant, 'whose keyboard work, which changes dramatically in style and intensity, fits so well within each song that it takes it to a higher level. These guys are good. No, they are actually better than good. And they are right at home with both the songs and McGaw, who fronts them but does not dominate.
One reason I tracked it a third time was the progression of songs. I know we live in a new world of digital ease and are getting away from listening beyond the song playing at the moment, but there is something to be said about the way a lot of us are wired, thanks to a lifetime of listening to albums on vinyl. We became so used to track progression and its musical counterpart that we cannot get away from it. The third listen convinced me that the three had sat down and hashed out the sequencing of tracks very carefully. The sound flows and yet is broken up by the way they are laid out, which I believe in this case is a very good thing. Keeping the two enders (the heart-soaked The Moon Is Torn and It's Still Light Out) separate from its cousin, the stunning and heart felt Eyes For Me, simply had to be because though the songs are all laid back and dreamy in sound, the themes are opposite in feel if not intent. Placing the theatrical Ferris Wheel between the hook-bent Flying Horses and the soulful Gone, Gone segues one song into the next, and the inclusion of Annie Lennox's "Cold" does the same for Eyes For Me and What's Good For Me.
First listen, I thought Flying Horses would be my favorite but it has become distant third to the outstanding It Is What It Is, a jazz-pop gem which is an arrangement masterpiece and great song to boot, and the introspective lullaby, It's Still Light Out, which ends with McGaw's breathy whisper "It's time…" The latter is one which Gene Puerling of Singers Unlimited could have arranged for the album they recorded with Oscar Peterson and taken into another dimension. Don't get me wrong. The Simple Things' dimension is perfect for that song, but if you have ever heard that excellent Singers Unlimited/Oscar Peterson album, you understand how highly I regard this track.
Word has it that Kaitlin McGaw is working the club circuit hard performing solo. I hope that this is not a breakup of The Simple Things because I hear what they can do together and it is excellent. Still, if that is the case, seeing McGaw solo is more than likely no step down. Her voice is entrancing when the song warrants it and gripping when it does not. I shall be watching closely. You should too.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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