Simon Joyner

Grass, Branch & Bone

BY Sarah GreenePublished Mar 31, 2015

Every locale must have at least a few of them — "guitar poets," as Simon Joyner calls them, uninterested in making pretty music and therefore able to create something that cuts to the heart of things, though it may fly under the radar. Omaha, Nebraska-based songwriter Joyner, who counts Conor Oberst and Gillian Welch amongst his fans, and reminds me an awful lot of Canadians like Kyp Harness and Al Tuck, certainly falls into this category.
Grass, Branch & Bone is Joyner's 13th album, a collection of rainy day ballads and late night ruminations so stripped down that at first it sounds like he's sing-talking almost atonally over his guitar. But then, sparse arrangements and subtle melodies seep out of the woodwork: the occasional restrained harmonica solo; appropriately scrape-y, evocative violin; dry yet resonant upright bass, brushed drums, the quietest of backup vocals; an entire song ("Train To Crazy Horse") punctuated by wind chimes.
The uninitiated can start with love song "You Got Under My Skin" — it has the most accessible melody and groove. Beyond that, Grass, Branch & Bone is about nostalgia and memory, people's relationships, death ("Jefferson Reed" is a dirge) and the call of the muse. The songs are blue and weary, but not entirely humourless. On seven-minute closer, "Nostalgia Blues," the speaker's in an argument with an old friend, who's jabbing at him: "You know he's playing the Sydney Opera House tonight, aren't y'all still sleeping on strangers' wooden floors?" It's followed by an under-the-breath "yes."
Joyner's poem-songs are worth lingering over. As it turns out, his idiosyncratic sandpaper tenor and low spacious guitar style are the perfect instruments through which to deliver them.

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