Peg Simone's biggest achievement on Secrets from the Storm is its epic 22-minute opener. The rest of the songs struggle to live up to its size.
Peg Simone's biggest achievement on her new record, Secrets from the Storm, is also her most daring. "Levee/1927" is a sprawling, 22-minute epic that starts with her trademark bed of impressionistic, ringing guitars, and it slowly, almost imperceptibly, grows into a fragile blues stomp that re-imagines parts of Led Zeppelin as well as the old blues standards from which Jimmy Page loved to borrow. The subtle and brilliant music is inter-cut with spoken-word segments by writer Holly Anderson, driving home the feelings of loss and nostalgia, of devastation and, just maybe, a slight glimmer of hope. The rest of the record, as the title implies, deals with storms too. There are clear allusions to the Great Mississippi Flood and Hurricane Katrina, and slight nods to any and all catastrophes in between. However, none of the other five tracks hold up quite as well as "Levee/1927". Anderson appears in two more tracks, but the whispered speeches lose their affecting haunt the longer you listen. Simone's layered playing remains compelling, but the jangling of "Henry" feels rushed and tossed off, while the wispy echoes of "Oh Holy Night" are too threadbare and can't quite hold together. Simone can certainly evoke a shadowy world with her songs, and on that stunning opening movement, she delivers a deeply felt ode to the chaos of crisis. Perhaps it's too good, though, because what follows has a hard time living up to that high and huge first note.