Simon Joyner

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Umbilical Chords , 5/10
Iffy MC , 5/10
Room Temperature , 5/10
The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll , 6/10
Heaven's Gate , 6.5/10
Songs for the New Year , 7/10
Yesterday Tomorrow and In Between , 7/10
The Lousy Dance , 7/10
Hotel Lives , 7/10
Lost With the Lights On (2004), 6.5/10
Skeleton Blues (2006), 6.5/10
Out Into the Snow (2009), 6/10
Ghosts (2012), 6.5/10
Grass Branch & Bone (2015), 4/10
Step Into The Earthquake (2017), 6/10
Pocket Moon (2019), 4/10

Simon Joyner is a solitary songwriter born in New Orleans but based in Omaha (Nebraska). Born in New Orleans in 1971 from Alabama-native parents, he moved to the north still a child, but kept visiting the south frequently.

His formative years as a songwriter yielded very personal collections like Umbilical Chords (One-Hour, 1992) and Iffy MC (Sing Eunuchs, 1993 - Unread, 2003). Most songs told sad stories of simple lives and were played by Joyner himself on guitar and little else.

Room Temperature (One-Hour, 1993) is another album entirely played by Joyner (guitar and harmonica), still in the proud tradition of Woody Guthrie and early Bob Dylan. Folk Song For Sara, The Shortest Distance Between Two Points is a Straight Line , Ruby Slippers, Halleluja, Double Joe , Ghetto Blaster, Godzilla, Vegetables, Seizure, Pseudonym Song, Scribble, Homebase, Petri-Dish, Leavenworth Cafe Blues, Grapefruit ,

The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll (Sing Eunuchs, 1994) was his first vinyl record and added electric guitar, drums (courtesy of friend Chris Deden) and piano: 747, Address, I Went to Our Lady of Perpetual Healing, Montgomery, August (Die She Must), Target, Josephine, Javelin, Appendix, Cole Porter, Joy Division. The same year Joyner also contributed Burn Rubber and Fluoride to the split single Why You All So Thief? (Sing Eunuchs, 1994).

Heaven's Gate (Sing Eunuchs, 1995 - Brinkman 1996) perfected his sparse, delicate, dreamy style. The quantum leap forward really came from the arrangements, that finally left behind the folk standard and delved into atmospheric textures, thanks to a small chamber ensemble of organ, violin (Alex McManus, a member of Lambchop and Vic Chesnutt's band), cello (Joyce Roper), banjo, mandolin, accordion (Bill Hoover) and percussions (Chris Deden). Promethius, Kerosene, Obituary, The Black Dog, Catherine, Three Well Aimed Arrows, You Don't Have to Love Me, Alabaster, Hollywood, Farewell to a Percival. Warm and sad, these songs bring back memories of Leonard Cohen.

Songs for the New Year (Sing Eunuchs, 1997) is more of the same, the sound getting almost baroque. Joyner now enjoys conducting his little orchestra, that has enrolled Bob Garfield on lap steel and George Peek on bass. the seven-minute The Cowardly Traveller Pays His Toll, Oxygen, Parachute, New Year's Song, the seven-minute Two Friends take a Bow for the Record , the seven-minute When Will the Sun Rise Again?, Born of Longing, I Wrote a Song About the Oceans, the eight-minute Disappear From Here.

Joyner established himself as a major voice in modern songwriting and arranging with the sprawling double-album Yesterday Tomorrow and In Between (Sing Eunuchs, 1998), one of the milestone recordings of that year, a glorious and highly personal summary of the aesthetic of Dylan, Young and Cohen. For this impressive endeavour, Joyner surrounded himself with seasoned professionals such as Mike Krassner, Glen Kotche and Joseph Ferguson of Edith Frost's band, bassist Ryan Hembrey of Pinetop Seven, pianist Deanna Vargona of Lambchop, keyboardist Scott Tuma (a former Souled American), and pianist Liz Conant, besides regulars Deden and McManus. The ensemble excels at both stark piano ballads and sumptuous pop, while Joyner does not hesitate to wear his old folksinger clothes or lead the band into a country-rock number. A bit of Giant Sand's existential laziness keeps everything in check. Standouts include the ten-minute meditation Eight Verses, the 11-minute cinematic closer The Passenger and the pretty elegy Christine. Bring Down Goliath, Cold Outside Your Window, Mama, Eight Verses, Yesterday Tomorrow and In Between , Ballad in the Past, Sinner's Song, Morning is Weary, That Was You, Christine, Came a Yellow Bird, Amen, Don't Miss Your Lover, Goodbye, So Long, Farewell, Goodbye, The Passenger.

The year was crowned by the single One For The Catholic Girls (Wurlitzer Jukebox, 1998), with the Fallen Men, and the The Christine EP (Secretly Canadian, 1998), that collected unreleased tracks dating from 1994 (John Train's Blues, Courting Mary, Everything's At Stake, Yellow Precious Letter ).

The EP The Motorcycle Accident (Roomtone, 1999) marks a reunion with the Fallen Men (Chris Deden on organ, Lonnie Methe on violin and Brad Smith on percussions). Thoughts Of A Dog, Flowers On Her Birthday, I Ask Of You These Things, Sad Stories, Tom Paine #1/#2, There Was A Time.

The Lousy Dance (Truckstop 1999) boasts a completely renewed line-up: Ken Vandermark on clarinet, Jessica Billey on violin, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Charles Kim on pedal steel, Ernst Long on flugelhorn and trumpet, Will Hendricks on piano, accordion and vibes join the core quartet of Chris Deden on percussion, Ryan Hembrey on bass, Glenn Kotche on percussions and Michael Krassner on electric guitar. Lambchop's chamber folk is now the most obvious reference, but Joyner's songs still have Leonard Cohen written all over them. And his soul-searching poetry has never been more romantic and erudite. The wonders of the instruments and the wonders of the words somehow find a magic balance that turns Joyner's songs into metaphysical journeys.
The Lousy Dance, I Will Find You, the seven-minute Fool's Gold on Main St., the seven-minute Long Dark Night, It Will Never Be This Way Again, the six-minute When She Drops Her Veil, the six-minute The Rain Asked For A Holiday, the eight-minuteJohn Train Blues.

Hotel Lives (Truckstop, 2001) opens with the oneiric guitar timbres of Hotel Suite, one of Joyner's literate poems, only accidentally delivered as a song, a confession of loneliness and confusion uttered in a raucous Dylan-ian voice. Insomnia advances at Neil Young's solemn pace, with a bit of Billy Joel's lonely self-agonizing. Billy Joel comes to mind also in the upbeat and bouncing 7-minute ode to drinking My Life Is Sweet, with flourishes of spanish guitar. And Only Love Will Bring You Peace has the tender, naive, ecstatic feeling of Donovan's baroque lullabies.
But Cohen's slow and deep crooning is just round the corner, lulling Blue Hammer, a nostalgic black hole that only radiates symbolic images, Now We Must Face Each Other, a slow-motion cello-driven fanfare, or She Without Shelter, a waltz-paced yodeling whine. The slow, quiet, firm 7-minute rant of Your Old Haunts is one of his sweetest compositions ever,
Joyner is clearly relishing the renewed sparseness of his sound. Depression is acute in The House, a funereal chant drowned in drones of strings. The nostalgy is no less naked on How I Regret That I've Done Wrong.
Joyner has vastly increased the complexity of his compositions (You David Maria and Me shoots stark piano figures against a voodoo beat while strings murmur in the background, the 9-minute country-rocker Geraldine with saloon-piano and loud drumming) and their allegorical charge sometimes approaches that of Nick Cave's parables (especially with lines like "only the guilty are ever really innocent").
Compared with his latest albums, this one is a sparser, more subdued affair. The band has been completely revolutionized and, except for an occasional trumpet, cello or clarinet, the guitars rule again.

single Here Come The Balloons (Tongue Master, 2003)

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Lorenzo Casaccia)

Simon Joyner e` un cantautore solitario da Omaha, Nebraska. Il suo introverso talento e` sempre stato troppo timido per concedergli il relativo successo di un Joe Henry.
I suoi primi dischi, all`inizio degli anni `90, sono confessioni per voce, chitarra e armonica nello stile di Guthrie e Dylan. Con gli anni si arricchiscono gli arrangiamenti fino a raggiungere il picco del periodo pre-Truckstop con il doppio Yesterday Tomorrow and In Between (Sing Eunuchs, 1998) (****), con un gruppo che comprende Krassner, Tuma e la band di Edith Frost.
Il passaggio alla Truckstop porta anche una nuova line-up: The Lousy Dance (*** =BD) e` folk da camera cantato con piglio alla Cohen e arrangiato da una formazione che e` molto prossima al Boxhead Ensemble.
Il recente Hotel Lives (***), prodotto da Krassner, e` forse da leggersi come un`opera di transizione. La musica e` piu` rarefatta, il taglio a= lla Cohen e` ancora molto forte e spiccano gli arrangiamenti classicheggianti di Lonberg-Holm. I brani sono a volte piu` complessi e si appoggiano parecchio sulle suggestioni alla Nick Cave delle liriche (ad esempio con versi come "only the guilty are  ever really innocent", solo il colpevole puo` essere veramente innocente).

Three epic ballads loom over Lost With the Lights On (Jagjaguwar, 2004), Joyner's tenth album featuring Michael Krassner, Fred Lonberg-Holm, guitarist Eric Heywood, pianist Wil Hendricks and Dirty Three's drummer Jim White: the martial and slightly drunk Dreams of Saint Teresa, that perfects his fusion of Leonard Cohen's mood and Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan's pace; the romantic Evening Song to Sally, whose resigned lament is permeated with Latin overtones a` la Desire-era Dylan; and Blue, a slow waltz-like dirge that tests the depths of loneliness. The rest of the collection does not live up to the high standards of these three songs, but the lullaby Birds of Spring, the calm and plain Flying Dreams, the sad singalong Four Birds and even the electric blues romp of Forgotten Blues prove Joyner's eclectic and poetic talent.

Strange Blues (2004) was an improvised collaboration with the Refrigerator's guitarist Dennis Callaci.

Beautiful Losers (Jagjaguwar, 2006) collects singles and compilation tracks from 1994-1999

Skeleton Blues (Jagjaguar, 2006) was a humbler work compared with its predecessors, but it still contains some stellar performances. The nine-minute Open Window Blues, that ends with a lengthy guitar-driven jam, blends the ambient jazz of Peter Green's End of the Game and the intricate guitarwork of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The tender, stately eight-minute ode The Only Living Boy In Omaha sounds like Warren Zevon covering Street Legal-era Dylan with string arrangements by VanDyke Parks. Alas, there isn't much music in the desolate ten-minute My Side of the Blues and even less in the anemic Epilogue In D. Medicine Blues is more energetic band effort but the result is more bombast than substance.

Out Into the Snow (Team Love, 2009) is less inspired in the choice of melodies and arrangement than its predecessor. There is a lot of Dylan beneath the verbose storytelling: the nine-minute The Drunken Boat sounds like a Hawaiian, slow-motion, version of Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone, (with a surreal coda of staccato strings) and the seven-minute Out Into The Snow could be a calmer version of Dylan's A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall. On the other hand, Ambulances is an enchanting lullaby in the vein of Leonard Cohen. The melodramatic peak is the dreamy and slightly drunk seven-minute Last Evening On Earth with gospel organ and Doors-ian guitar. A close contender is the lugubrious, sedate lament Peace In My Time that a shivering violin lulls to sleep. The elegant string arrangements combine well with the steel guitar but sometimes they clip Joyner's wings, tame his eccentric side.

The sprawling double-disc Ghosts (Sing Eunuchs, 2012) opens with the ghost of Lou Reed that haunts many of the songs with their deranged dissonance and fatalistic tone. After some nightmarish noise, Vertigo intones a Reed-ian litany that within three minutes gets amplified by staccato piano, distorted guitar and tom-tom drumming. The Lou Reed influence blends with the Dylan of Desolation Row, plaintive violin and country chorus in the catchy and energetic Last Will And Testament. The desolate, disjointed Red Bandana Blues, which is basically a duet between the voice and a petulant psychedelic guitar, is the prelude to what happens next: a progressive disintegration of the music amid a feast of guitar distortion. The nine-minute The Tyrant is so slow and so little musical that all the time it feels like it's going to suddenly implode. His singing becomes a spectral colloquial in If It's Alright With You (It's Alright With Me) Pt. 1 but over abrasive blues-rock jamming. The limping rhythm and atonal violin of Will You Stand Up For Me? leads to one of the spectacular numbers, If It's Alright With You (It's Alright With Me) Pt. 2 with an arrangement of trotting beat, psychedelic distortion and surreal pizzicato violin. The destructive force of this method is visible in Answering Machine Blues, where anemic dissonant instrumental sounds and a lazy drumbeat seem to lull each other to death. By the time you reach If I Left Tomorrow, you got used to the guitar distortion and the song sounds surprisingly straightforward country-rock. The counterpart to these noisy songs are delicate, fragile elegies like Swift River Run and The Last Parade, sometimes exuding a degree of melancholy that equals an emotional collapse, like in Hard Luck Heart, with an accompaniment that is borderline non-musical at all, like in Cotes Du Rhone. The album ends with Ghost, three minutes of collective noise, perhaps his kind of "metal machine music".

New Secrets (2013) was his second collaboration with the Refrigerator's guitarist Dennis Callaci, with the rocking The Frayed End of the Rope, and it was followed by a collaboration with the whole Refrigerator band, Was It Something We Sang? (2016).

Grass, Branch & Bone (Woodsist, 2015) is the opposite of Ghosts: a collection of humble, mostly acoustic short songs in a more traditional folk and country version. Joyner sounds like Nashville's version of Donovan in Train To Crazy Horse, intones the slow country dance You Got Under My Skin, and gets subdued beyond the musical level, although somehow the submusical realm can still sound haunting like Old Days. He barely has the energy to croon the refrain of Nostalgia Blues, which is otherwise a dirge radiating at a funereal pace. A very, very minor entry in his catalog.

Rehearsal Tape (2016) collects casual duets with Cursive's cellist Megan Siebe. Joyner and Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter David Nance re-recorded the Rolling Stones' album Goats Head Soup (1973) as Goats Head Soup (2017).

The double-LP Step Into The Earthquake (Ba Da Bing, 2017) was his sociopolitical statement after the election of the neofascist Donald Trump. It was also the album where he seemed to rediscover how to sing regular songs. Change the lyrics and standout I'm Feeling It Today could be a catchy, jangling remake of Dylan's A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall done by the Byrds with Dylan guesting on harmonica. The album has several charming tunes (the gospel-ish Hail Mary, the simple waltzing Earthquake, and Annie's Blues in the style of Dylan's Blonde on Blonde) but also quite a bit of filler. The seven-minute I'll Fly Away marks an unwelcomed return to the non-musical style of Grass, Branch & Bone. The 19-minute I Dreamed I Saw Lou Reed Last Night comes to the rescue: after six minutes of harsh drones and free jamming, the drums and the guitar engineer a percussive orgy while Joyner intones a decadent litany that actually sounds like Reed fronting Sonic Youth. Another effective arrangement comes in Flash Forward To The Moon, from the spectral and sinister opening to the expressionist flow of dissonances via Neil Young-ian bursts of distorted guitar. But it's I Dreamed I Saw Lou Reed Last Night that saves the album from oblivion.

Unfortunately, Pocket Moon (Ba Da Bing, 2019) sounds a follow-up to Grass, Branch & Bone with even less inspiration. You're Running Away David and Yellow Jacket Blues offer the most musical moments but are not exactly groundbreaking.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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