If you love reggae – and who doesn’t – there needs to be a beam of light in your near future, specifically the Simpkin Project’s new album, Beam of Light. Formed in the early 2000’s by Phil Simpkin and Shawn Taylor to indulge their love of reggae, this Southern California band plays a blend of reggae, blues, rock, and Americana that , well…it has soul. That is only way to describe a sound blends authentic roots reggae rhythms with a wall-of-sound production style and Americana/R&b/rock harmonies and feel. Beam of Light pulls all of that together in one joyful, over the top you-must-dance-to-this album.
With a satisfying 12 songs, Beam of Light moves from pure rockon reggae to plaintive bluesy songs Bob Marley would give the nod to. Starting with “Hustling”, Simpkin, Taylor and the band – Sean Kennedy on drums, Nick Zermino on bass, Jules Luna vocals/rhythm guitar, and Sergio Sandoval on percussion – lay down a solid reggae marker colored with the B2 sound of old fashioned rock. You are hooked. The hook is set deeper with “Passion”, which keeps the beat but slides back a little more into early rock with harmonics and electric guitar accents. But before the thrill of “Passion” wears off the album moves you back into a pure reggae groove with the love song, “Never Forget”.
“Somethings Don’t Change” pulls a sly joke on you because it is a changeup – a rock ballad with a reggae beat instead of a reggae song with a rock feel. The highlight of the album for me comes next, “Pure Harmony”, a shake-your-shoulders reggae tune with Phil’s voice unfurling the lyrics:
Walk with me and be a friend./Back together once again./On each other we depend./Better times are up ahead… the two of us in unison make perfect harmony.
This is the essence of the album, the message of Beam of Light – harmony, something it has lots of.
“Harmony” is followed by the more rock and B2-inflected “Coming Home” which flows nicely into the title song in which the band nails down the rhythm and message. Reverting back to pure reggae beat in “Beam of Light”, Simpkin tells us that in everyone and everywhere there is a beam of light. That beam shines through the album and through the joyful live performances packed with the Simpkin’s rabid followers.
But Phil and the band are not going to let you forget their other musical chops. They shift the mood and the beat in “I’ll Be There”, which launches like a classic R&B love song that lets the reggae rhythm creep in as the song builds. They move on to a gospel theme in “Many Rivers to Cross” – still with a dance beat – and then on to a pop-infused “The World’s On Our Shoulders” with deep, plaintive harmonies and subtle guitar riffs accenting the reggae bass and percussion.
The album takes a kind of dreamy mystical turn with “It’s Only Nothing”. Chime-like notes, ethereal guitar chords and B2 accents laid over the Caribbean percussion support Phil’s voice as he soothes:
It’s only nothing, it’s only nothing, lingering on until you hurt./It’s only nothing, it’s only nothing, lingering on until you burst
Danceable, emotional, thoughtful, addictive.
The album wraps with an Americana-infused “Try to Understand”, a plaintive call for help introduced by a simple guitar strum overtaken but not eclipsed by subtle background bongo and brush-drum hits.It could be 50’s R&B except for the polyrhythms . That is the genius of Beam of Light and of the band, the Simpkin Project. They blend beloved music forms with reggae so both maintain their essence. It is why their shows are packed and why this album is pure joyful brilliance.