"An American Love Story," a documentary series exploring the life of an interracial couple--corporate manager Karen Wilson and musician Bill Sims--begins airing Sunday night on PBS. Two albums have been released in conjunction with the broadcast, the more notable a self-titled recording by Sims, a veteran blues journeyman who has seldom recorded in the past. The other album is a series soundtrack composed of familiar soul tunes as well as music performed by Sims.
Just who is Bill Sims? Even in blues circles the question is likely to come up, since Sims has spent his professional life out of the limelight. As a member of the Four Mints, he enjoyed modest success on the R&B circuit in the '70s. After moving to New York in 1979, he worked as a carpenter and a mail carrier before resuming his life as a musician, immersed in jazz and blues.
Perhaps that's why he sounds as though he's making up for lost time on "Bill Sims" (PBS/Warner Bros.). He covers an enormous amount of ground here, drawing on blues as his primary inspiration while also summoning the sounds of soul, gospel and zydeco with cool authority. Indeed, no matter what the mood or groove, Sims never sounds like he's out of his element. He can always rely on his voice, a warm, burnished baritone, and his electric-guitar playing, which is clearly inspired by B.B. King and Albert King, to make a tune sound like a natural part of his repertoire.
That's quite an accomplishment since these songs celebrate the glory days of Memphis soul ("I Want to See You Again") and readily evoke images of Taj Mahal ("Black Mare"), Keb' Mo' ("Just Like You"), Howlin' Wolf ("Mr. Airplane Man") and Albert King ("As the Years Go Passin' By").
Sims has a way with acoustic refrains, too, as he demonstrates on his own "Blues for Breakfast," a 12-bar lament capped with a classic Robert Johnson coda.
The songwriting skills the bluesman possesses are also evident on "Smoky City," a cinematic "Shaft"-like homage, and "Man Eater," a tale of betrayal that underscores Sims's affinity for B.B. King's brand of brass and blues.
(To hear a Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8172.)
"An American Love Story" (PBS/Warner Bros.) contains four performances by Sims, including three that appear on his own album. The remaining tune, Sims's zydeco-flavored "Lovin' Friends," brings the soundtrack to a sentimental close.
But not before listeners get a chance to relive the '60s, thanks to such Top 40 smashes as the Temptations' "My Girl," Mary Wells's "My Guy," Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "Ooo Baby Baby," Otis Redding's "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" and Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way."
Boomer nostalgia aside, if this anthology helps introduce Sims's music to a larger audience, it will have served a good purpose.
(To hear a Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8173.)
CAPTION: A PBS documentary on his marriage has spawned two albums featuring music by Bill Sims.