For her latest album, Yakiimo, singer-songwriter Simone White again worked with producer Mark Nevers (Lambchop, Calexico, Bonnie Prince Billy, Will Oldham) at his studio in Nashville. The two had previously collaborated on White’s 2007 release I am the Man. That album garnered worldwide critical praise, and yielded her best known song to date, the charming and incredibly catchy ″The Beep Beep Song″, which was featured in the European ad campaign for the Audi R8. While Yakiimo may not feature any single song quite as instantly memorable as ″The Beep Beep Song″, it does feature other delightfully distinctive traits that make Simone White’s music so irresistible.
First, there’s the songwriting itself. On the surface, this record would be classified as modern folk, or, given Nevers’ involvement, it could be called country. As such, it might be dismissed as simply yet another indie girl with a guitar singing songs about love and loss. However, it would be a crime to sell these songs short like that. True, many of the tracks on Yakiimo touch on those familiar territories, but they do so in a way that recalls—and blends—even earlier musical art forms. It has much in common with classic American roots music; it’s filled with a wealth of narrative tradition that is unusual these days. There are the laments, such as ″A Girl You Never Met″, in which youth long gone is mourned. There are the songs of longing, like Frank Bango and Richy Vesecky’s ″Your Stop″, about stalking your ex’s subway stop.″Without A Sound″ is a musical wake, of sorts, only it describes finality of the silence that marks the death of a relationship. ″Candy Bar Killer″, also by Bango and Vesecky, though it may technically be about typical adolescent urges, might as well be a murder ballad.
Of course, many of the songs do cover the more obvious lyrical subjects. Crushes, happy love and sweet childhood memories appear in ″Olivia 101″, ″Victoria Anne″ (written for Victoria Williams, with whom White has toured), and ″Baby Lie Down with Me″, among others, but still often do so in such unexpected, quirky and, to be honest, sometimes disquieting ways, that you will be compelled to listen more closely, and once you do you will be drawn into the deep, often dark storytelling that lies in the lyrics just beneath the breath of White’s vocals.
The vocals may be the most alluring aspect of the album, and of White’s work in general. Her incomparable voice carries a sense of melancholy even when her words are mirthful, its quality is ethereal and substantial by turns, it seems almost weightless, and yet is anchored fast by the weight of the emotions it conveys. Throughout listening to Yakiimo, you find yourself floating along on the melodies, lulled by the seeming vulnerability of that voice, that as surely as it lures can just as suddenly lunge, plunging you into its depths.
Yakiimo, with its somber undertones and Simone White’s singular singing style, may not be for everyone. For those who enjoy great storytelling in songwriting, gorgeous voices employing haunting vocal phrasings and a little mystery behind the music, however, this may be just what you’ve been waiting for.