Simone Massaron boasts an impressive circle of musical acquaintances that includes Nels Cline, Marc Ribot , and Steve Piccolo. Judging by the diversity, adventure, and pure talent put into Dandelions on Fire, you can begin to understand why we’ll start paying just as much attention to Massaron as his respective musical cohorts.
Dandelions… runs the gamut in terms of depth, composition, and hauntingly precise vocal accompaniment. Carla Bozulich’s voice is as clean and as throaty as it’s ever been, sliding over Massaron’s compositions like a thick silk. Despite being born and raised in Italy, and being a revered fretless jazz guitar player, Massaron’s ability to channel the grime and soul right off any southern blues ballad is the most impressive aspect of this album. The tracks “Never Saw Your Face” and “Five Dollar Lottery” are quintessential examples of this ability. “Never Saw Your Face” opens the album and shows you just how deep Massaron can go towards the abysmal side of emotion, while “Five Dollar Lottery” hits you at the midway point, reminding you what he still has in store. Too dark for any blues club, and too straight-forward for any jazz club, these songs are right at home in the grittiest lamp-lit back-alley.
The Massaron machine doesn’t stop at just jazz and blues, though. Several of the songs would fit almost anyone looking for a folk background. He trades in his arsenal of guitars for a banjo and taps into a very legitimate backcountry sound. “Love Me Mine” and “My Hometown” are a couple of upbeat little ditties that keep the album refreshing and light, for when you need a break from the heavier serious side conveyed by the other tracks.
By the time you get to the last track on the album, you’ve heard jazz, blues, folk, and ballads that hold their own, and answer to nothing. It isn’t until the closer, “I Saw Him,” that you get to experience Massaron and Co.’s throat-grabbing improvisational skills. It broods through ambience, falters in and out of subconsciously formed rhythms, and raises the hair on your neck through Bozulich’s blatant yells. One might get the impression that she’s narrating the story of an apparition so terrifying that it’d send someone running through the bayous of Mississippi in the middle of the night.
I couldn’t help but feel that the material presented by Massaron’s Dandelions on Fire would be at home on any of the Tom Waits’ albums from the past decade. I couldn’t find any direct correlation from Massaron to Waits through background digging, and that’s what makes this album even better. It bears the almost unmistakable variances of an extremely seasoned veteran, yet makes no apologies when it comes to claiming its individuality. This is one uniquely diverse collection that’s sure to satiate any fan of Mr. Waits or Nels Cline, but would likely also be in frequent rotation of any dedicated Carla Bozulich fan.