Ahead of his new LP, which is set to see release this September, Howard Simon delivers two remarkably warm tracks in “Don’t Keep Me Waiting” and “Tend the Fire” that do plenty to sell the skillset of their performer on their own. In his subtle cover of “Don’t Keep Me Waiting,” Simon artfully duels with a moody instrumental harmony that is as haunting as it is reflective, while in “Tend the Fire,” he treads conventional folk-rock territory with an experimental melodicism that suits his pastoral poetry quite well. Both of these songs are terrific autumn ballads, but much more than that, they tell us a lot about who Howard Simon is as an artist.

BANDCAMP “TEND THE FIRE” https://howardsimon.bandcamp.com/track/tend-the-fire-2

 “Tend the Fire” is defined by its rough edges, which gradually become coarser with each verse that our leading man dispenses from behind a joint-force of piano, guitar and rollicking percussion. The tension is beautifully situated between the lyrical emissions and the flowing melodies that hang on their every word, and by the time we reach the three-minute mark in the track, it’s as though Simon is conducting a symphony as diversely appointed as the very patchwork of Americana is. It’s got a progressive feel, but much like its counterpart, it lacks the indulgence of a plasticized pop sound altogether.

In “Don’t Keep Me Waiting,” Simon takes a slightly more aggressive approach to his verses, but once again avoids the typical excesses that have long been associated with covers like this one. The strings are simply stunning in this track, and with an aching harmonica to balance their toned attack we’re able to feel all of the underlying emotion that the words in this composition could never fully express. This is one of the only non-original singles I’ve genuinely enjoyed this month, and it’s definitely as strong an effort as the original “Tend the Fire” is.

As far as the production quality goes for this new material from Howard Simon, both tracks are fairly superb (especially when compared side by side with some of the similarly-stylized content to come out of the American underground recently). As intriguing as they sound in this setting, I get the feeling that they were made for the stage, and would likely sound a lot fuller in a live performance than they ever could inside the four walls of a recording studio. Simon’s presence is stellar here, and if that carries over into his shows, these songs could easily become staples of his setlist.

BANDCAMP “KEEP ME WAITING” https://howardsimon.bandcamp.com/track/dont-keep-me-waiting-2

 If these two singles are any indication as to what his new record is going to sound like, it’s absolutely going to be a hit with fans and audiences of the folk/rock persuasion this month. Howard Simon is focused, unfanciful and mightily creative in “Don’t Keep Me Waiting” and “Tend the Fire,” and even in the case of the cover, his unique talents have never sounded more inspired and untethered to the mainstream than they do here. He’s come a long way in a short amount of time, and as long as he keeps producing on this level, he’s going to have a really successful future ahead of him.

Sebastian Cole