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Simon Joyner - Ghosts

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Artist: Simon Joyner

Album: Ghosts

Label: Sing, Eunuchs!

Review date: Aug. 31, 2012

There’s nothing like a decade anniversary to shake you up. Simon Joyner has marked the 20th year of his recording career with a record, Ghosts, that interrupts the progression toward complete craftsmanship that he has pursued from 1999’s The Lousy Dance through his last album, Out into the Snow. His lyrics aren’t any less careful; Joyner has far too much respect for a lineage of songwriting that encompasses Dylan, Cohen and Van Zandt to let an ill-considered line get away from him. But he’s put aside the just-right settings that Fred Lonberg-Holm, Laraine Kaizer and Michael Krassner have wrapped around his voice in favor of something more rough-edged and rambunctious.

The ballads here are, as ever, framed with delicately strummed acoustic guitars and sorrowful bowed strings, but their gathering is more informal, as though someone turned the tape machine on while they were still working out just what to do. The difference is more pronounced on the rockers, which blaze with a bile and chaos unparalleled in Joyner’s work. It’s as though someone had played the Dead C’s Harsh 70s Reality to the Rolling Stones of Beggars Banquet, and then turned them loose on Dylan c. Blonde on Blonde.

Like those records, Ghosts is a double album, made the way they used to make ‘em. Joyner cut it all-analog (at least, up to the point where the music was digitized for the download coupon tucked into the gatefold sleeve). The sleeve is adorned with old film strips. He sang the songs while the band played, and the tracks were mixed with hands on faders instead of computer mice. And the record wears its ambition like a big ol’ barn coat, simultaneously weighty and perfectly fit.

Ghosts is a song cycle that winds around the narrative that’s stretched through Joyner’s work from the beginning. He writes about lives pursuing a downward trajectory from ill-grasped hope to hard-learned acceptance. The blackbirds in “Vertigo” know all about flying into the window; the unwilling witnesses to diverse tragedies on “Sing A Little Lullaby” have all passed through the moment when singing to yourself is the only comfort around; and even “The Tyrant’s” protagonist can’t get no sleep. “This world is full of love,” Joyner sings, “but it turns out that isn’t nearly enough.” The lyrics’ harshness is well conveyed by his voice, an imperfect vessel cracked so that it leaks anguish even when he sings of hope.

But the hope is there, seeded in treasured memories and the insomnia of the guilty. This isn’t the record you’ll put on when you’re on a high, but when you need the uplift conveyed by proof of perseverance, Joyner’s got your back.

By Bill Meyer

Other Reviews of Simon Joyner

Room Temperature / Beautiful Losers

Out into the Snow

Read More

View all articles by Bill Meyer

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