To be perfectly honest, until a few days ago, I had absolutely no idea that Rostrum Records wasn't just a vanity label created by the ambitious Benjy Grinberg to better enable him to vault Allderdice rapper Wiz Khalifa to major-label stardom. (It still could happen -- hold your breath for early 2009). But Rostrum has a small, growing roster of independent, mainly hip-hop, artists. It also boasts this angelic-voiced Jewish kid named Scott Simons, who used to front the hooky, Ben Foldsy pop-rock band The Argument, which was based in West Virginia but played regularly in Pittsburgh.
Now in L.A., Simons is writing songs for Top 40 bands as well as commercial jingles, but he's kept a solo career very much alive -- his mellow piano-rock version of Rihanna's "Umbrella" was an Internet sensation. Simons' developed melodic sensibilities and production smarts are put to good use on this debut EP, which came out in September, especially on the bright, hand-clappy "Call It Even" (which Ben Gibbard of The Postal Service probably wishes he wrote) and "The Foot of the Stairs," with its soaring falsetto vocals.
The emphasis songs are the potential radio hits "Start of Something," with its easily recognizable piano riff, and the dancey, atmospheric "Keep On." Both are serious attempts to break into a commercial market where older high school and college girls fill their iPods with well-produced music from Josh Groban, One Republic, Augustana and the like. It's not a world I'm very familiar with, but I can understand the appeal of music like Simons' -- it's very comforting, uplifting and assured. Plus the club remix of "Keep On" can probably be safely played on the dance floor next to the likes of Cher.
So it's not hard to imagine, based on this extremely confident EP, that Scott Simons will find a solid niche in the music industry, which could also bode an exciting future for Rostrum.