Stephen Simmons was raised in the small town of Woodbury, Tennessee. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father held a factory job. In his family, they were the first generation that didn’t work the farm. Now a singer-songwriter based in Nashville, Tennessee, Stephen’s vision entails more than just reflections of rural America. The songs on his new recording, Something In Between, deal with existential realities that are familiar to country and city dwellers alike: redemption, heartbreak, hangovers and the loneliness of the road.
Like Stephen’s previous records, The Superstore, Last Call and Drink Ring Jesus (which were compared to everyone from Johnny Cash to Ryan Adams), Something In Between combines virtuosic songcraft and musicianship with unparalleled artistic honesty. “Don’t Mind Me,” for example, turns a jaded eye toward the perils of drunken conversation and the frustrations of a barroom troubadour. “And don’t mind me,” he sings, “Just keep it moving along/ The last thing in this world that I need/ Is a bar full of yapping jaws/ And don’t mind me/ Man I’ll pay when I’m done/ Already owed everybody/ Before I ever begun.”
Something in Between differs somewhat from Stephen’s previous work. If anything, the new recording focuses more on the microcosm of human relationships and less on the broader questions of faith and redemption that defined Last Call and Drink Ring Jesus. "Long Road", for instance, articulates the shifting emotions felt at different times during a relationship. In “We’ll See,” there’s a dark cloud hanging over a new connection. Then there’s the worn and weary lover and his collection of new scars in the rocker “New Scratches,” which is perhaps Stephen’s most confessional work to date.
An all-star cast backs Stephen on Something In Between. Produced by Richard McLaurin (Maura O’Connell, Matthew Ryan) at David Briggs’ legendary House of David studio, the recording makes the most of that facility’s live-in-your-living-room sound. Joining Stephen and Richard are guitarist Joe McMahan (Allison Moorer, Kevin Gordon), steel guitar great Al Perkins (Crosby Stills & Nash, The Rolling Stones), fiddler Tammy Rogers (Reba McIntire, Trisha Yearwood), bassist Billy Mercer (Ryan Adams, Todd Snider) and drummer Ken Lewis (Holly Williams, Amy Grant). David Briggs himself plays on several tracks. The pianist, who’s best known for his long stint with Elvis Presley, has played on recordings by a virtual Who’s Who of pop and country, including Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton and Loretta Lynn.
Something In Between was released on 'Rounder Europe' records in September 2007 and later released in North America in January 2008.
02.08.08 The Washington Post
Stephen Simmons isn't related to anyone famous, but he sounds so much like Steve Earle that they could be nephew and uncle. That's not a bad thing, for not many singers achieve such a confident, full-bodied sound while delivering conversational confessions. Simmons's songwriting on his fourth album, Something in Between, differs from Earle's in its emphasis on such classic country fare as broken marriages and drunken regrets. It's odd to hear those themes set against the Dylanesque folk-rock arrangements fueled by producer David Briggs's organ and Simmons's harmonica, but it works. The Nashville singer-songwriter never whines and always offers a clear-eyed assessment of his own failures and lingering hopes. Those hopes come to the fore on "New Scratches," a boast that he's sticking out a new relationship despite all the cuts and bruises.
— Geoffrey Himes
01.01.08 The Nashville Scene
Nashville Scene Critics Pick
Last we heard from Stephen Simmons, he had one thing on his mind (or two, really)—Jesus and the Devil. On 2006’s Drink Ring Jesus, he was wrestling with religion of the thorn-in-your-side, beer-in-your-hand variety, armed only with his coarse, raw-edged baritone—which bears a resemblance to Steve Earle’s in its texture and range—and acoustic guitar. Before that, Simmons worked a tug of war between carnality and spirituality on 2004’s Last Call, interspersing acoustic tracks with a country-rooted full-band sound. His brand new album Something In Between—released last year in Europe—represents a shift: It’s a different sort of heartache (the kind lovers inflict on each other) and a different sound (more firmly planted in heartland rock territory). But Simmons has his constants: The songs are still thoroughly down-to-earth and, as the opening track, "Don’t Mind Me," establishes, he’s still got a beer in hand. With the Wrights and Jason Eady. 9 p.m. at Mercy Lounge
– Jewly Hight
12.01.07 UNCUT Magazine (UK)
Third album from grainy US warbler
Beautiful as it often was, Simmons’ album from last year, Drink Ring Jesus was almost unremittingly bleak. Strung out over softly plucked acoustic guitar, Simmons’ songs flickered like dim bulbs in an empty church. Something In Between finds the Nashville man broadening the sound with mid-tempo rock (“Go Easy On Me”) and some classy country chug (“Cloudy In LA”), but mostly it’s gruff folk pickings in the vein of Steve Earle or Ray Wylie Hubbard. The great Al Perkins adds pedal steel to these sinister rumbles, acting as counterweight to Simmons’ dark tales of escape and despair.
Sept/Oct 2007 Properganda (UK)
First coming to our attention with the raw and passionate Drink Ring Jesus, that pitched Simmons's sad-eyed-folky drawl against minimal guitar and harmonica, this year's model comes bathed in layers of sound. His voice is still affecting, but the band setting gives him the chance to develop melodic ideas to underpin his bar room philosophy.
He carries the weight of a good church upbringing that hasn't quite stood the tests of adult life with the questions and hypocrisies that crop up all too often. Struggles to stay honest, to stay on the good side and maintain dignity spill out through aching ballads like Long Road and Blues On A Sunny Day, but defiance also bristles through stompers like New Scratches.
Guitarist Richard McLaurin also produces, setting a tone somewhere between Steve Earl, Jackson Browne and Ryan Adams. You get the sense that the songs will stand a solo reading as well and the closer All The Time I've Got especially hints at that.
01.30.08 Nashville City Paper
Something in Between (Americana) from singer/songwriter Stephen Simmons is appropriately titled, as Simmons music could accurately be dubbed introspective pop, rock-tinged folk, or country with touches of the blues, depending on the selection. He's effective with sentimental fare ("Hold You Today," "We'll See, "All The Time I've Got,") or harder, more lyrically intense material ("Long Road," "Down Tonight," "Blues On A Sunny Day.") His instrumental collaborators include the very busy Richard McLaurin (multiple guitars, plus organ and mellotron) plus keyboardist David Briggs, electric guitarist Joe McMahan, Al Perkins on pedal steel, bassist Billy Mercer and drummer Ken Lewis. Mixed and produced by McLaurin at the House of David studios locally, Something in Between has songs to make you think, others to amuse or entertain, and most importantly displays the writing and singing acumen of Stephen Simmons.
12.01.07 Maverick Magazine (UK)
Relationship analysis with tunes
SOMETHING IN BETWEEN is a remarkably 'musical' album. That may sound like a slightly damning thing to say about a songwriter's record, but it's the first thing that strikes you about it. There's no solo acoustic guitar going on, nothing is stripped down to the bone, instead there's a lovely full band feel that recalls Jackson Browne's sound, updated a little. This can be heard throughout the album, notably on New Scratches, first cousin to Cut It Away from Browne's LAWYERS IN LOVE, but little hints pop up all over the place.
But Simmons' songs aren't overshadowed by the music. SOMETHING IN BETWEEN is an album about relationships, new, old, struggling, failed, and while Simmons' world is not necessarily a happy one, it's one we all inhabit to some extent, and he both illuminates it and offers hope and justification for the lives led in it. He is a poet of the prosaic, and in so being reveals it to be not so prosaic at all under the surface. Though he harvests familiar fields to glean his subject matter he has a way with a line, a couplet or a verse that cuts to the heart of the matter. Take "Tonight my heart has got brand new scratches baby / and you must think new scratches look good on me' (New Scratches) or the knowing guilt of "And babe you're a lot like a jacket / that I put on to keep warm / but I'll take you off when I feel / the rays of the sun and their warmth' (Down Tonight), just two amongst many equally good.
Simmons sound is a little slicker than that of the bulk of his contemporaries, which makes it easy on the ear, but his music is no less real or affecting for it, and SOMETHING IN BETWEEN is well worth seeking out.