Bill Evans — he of banjo and bluegrass fame as opposed to the jazz musician of the same name — spent the last three years working with an array of notable collaborators in order to deliver Things Are Simple, this mostly instrumental offering. As a result, Evans — who happens to be the most recent winner of the Steve Martin Banjo Prize — is clearly in good company. Instrumental support comes courtesy of Chad Manning and Darol Anger providing support on fiddles, John Reischman contributing mandolin, Jim Nunally playing guitar, and bassist Sharon Gilchrist locking in the rhythm that underscore it all.
The result is a series of mostly rousing and robust offerings, with songs such as Sierra Blanco, Along Came Sonny, Gertie & Jake, and the traditional standard, Chinquapin Hunting, all performed with a full frenzy. On the other hand, there’s another side to the proceedings as well, courtesy of various selections that are, by contrast, decidedly subdued. Black Range Waltz, for example, allows for what’s best described as a soothing serenade. True He’s Gone comes across like a solemn lament, while Midnight at Rosine combines fiddle with the pluck of strings, providing some meditative musings and a more tender tone that’s infused in the album overall.
Still, it’s the title track itself that brings true messaging to the music. It marks Evans’ vocal debut as part of a duet sung with his wife, Babi. A subdued yet spiritual offering, it’s well in keeping with the calming theme the name implies. Indeed, in a turbulent and topsy-turvy world, the words are well worth remembering. Likewise, as one of two vocal tracks that feature prominently on the album, it underscores a certain spiritual sensibility as well.
In that regard, Things Are Simple serves as a reminder that, despite even the most tedious and tiresome set of circumstances faced on a daily basis, there are other alternatives when it comes to achieving a contented state of mind. Credit Evans with providing some creative counseling.