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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Column 244: Joyner Rolls On; Monsters of Folk tonight...

Simon Joyner's official CD release show for Out Into the Snow is slated for Nov. 13 at Slowdown...

Column 244: Roll On
This time, Simon Joyner's music is as strong as his words.

I stole some words from Simon Joyner for this review of his latest album, Out Into the Snow. I figure his words are better than mine, since he has a way of saying things as only a poet or a dreamer (or a realist) could. Lines like this one from the song "The Arsonist":

"I look for you in the dye of cancelled stamps / In the panic of sirens / In the vanishing kite strings of airplane exhaust"

I'm never going to come up with anything like at. When it comes to talking about his records, your best bet is to use his words rather than your own, because nothing you're going to say is going to describe his music better than his music, or his lyrics. All the high-brow analysis or references to literary or musical giants of the past only reveal a reviewer reaching for something that isn't there.

Joyner strings together revealing metaphors throughout his new album that, taken as a whole, create an indelible portrait, a landscape of his broken horizon that is a crystal-clear snapshot of our time.

See, that just doesn't work. When you over think it, it just sounds forced. And nothing on his records sound forced. From the title song:

"Verse from the bible memorized in childhood / Fell from your tongue to the car keys / You asked me if it mattered / Everything had a pattern / You can't stand far enough back to see it."

It's just like he's done for the last 11 albums over the past 15 years or so. Like his literary progeny, Conor Oberst, few people recognize the brilliance of his melodies, but everyone respects the quality of the words he chooses. Joyner's lyrics are dark, lonely poems or stark observations of the every day tied together in a folk-rock-country melody that all the young indie kids are in love with these days.

Also like Oberst, his wobbly croon is not immediately embraced -- or by some, never embraced. And that's okay. While Joyner's music was made for mass consumption, I don't know if that's ever going to happen, at least not with his purposely off-balance, uncertain voice singing those painful, lovely words. I suppose somebody said that about Dylan and Cohen, too and just look what happened to those two kids.

Released on Team Love Records last month, Out Into the Snow is the most streamlined, most easy to embrace album of Joyner's career. If you thought he was trying to chase you off before, well, he sounds like he's trying to call you back with this one. Or at least coax you to give it a try.

Backing him up is Alex McManus (Lambchop, Bright Eyes, The Bruces), Ryan Kennedy, Mike Friedman (The Movies), Michael Krassner (Boxhead Ensemble), and Chris Deden, along with vocalists Sarah Gleason and Pearl Lovejoy Boyd (Outlaw Con Bandana) and string arrangements by violinist Laraine Kaizer.

Joyner was backed by a full band for his last full-length, Skeleton Blues, an album that seemed to point the way toward this one. But on that record, only one song came in under four minutes, while the rest were reckless, bluesy folk-jams that were comfortable stretching out over six, eight, ten minutes.

Only the opening song, "The Drunken Boat," feels epic in length at over nine minutes, and even then, you don't really mind because Joyner keeps it moving along with lines that you don't see coming, like "Memories drank from the horizon as my eyes dried in the breeze." And he does it at his most controlled -- i.e., he's not noticably off key, at least not that often. It's as if he's decided to try to sound, well, normal.

Adding to the musical emphasis are unique instrumental touches seldom heard on a Joyner record. Toward the end of that epic opener, he shares the melody with a floating trio of violins. Halfway through "The Arsonist," the crooning and piano pause for a brief flute interlude before the drums come back in and Joyner gets back to "penny arcade portraits of Lauren Bacall." All in under three minutes.

Still, like the others, it really is the words that drive this record. Certainly it's the words you're going to remember.

"It's fading, it's fading / So what are you gonna do now? / You're either laying low or chasing smoke or thinking of throwing in the towel / So roll on, roll on..."

If I close my eyes, I think I can hear that one on a jukebox somewhere, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Stones and Dylan and Leonard and Lou. And some young kid listening, and thinking to himself, "That's a good line." That's a good song. And this is a good album. Roll on indeed.

* * *

Tonight at The Holland Performing Arts Center its Monsters of Folk featuring Conor Oberst, M. Ward, Jim James and Mike Mogis, with special guest Will Johnson (Centro-matic) on drums. When Oberst/Ward/James played at Joslyn's Witherspoon Concert Hall way back in 2004 it was considered a landmark performance that would likely never happen again. If you missed it (like I did), you were kicking yourself for the rest of the year. Who would have thought that the same trio of indie music royalty -- along with Omaha guitarist/producer/genius Mike Mogis -- would ever grace an Omaha stage again (at least without Obama in tow)? Yet here they are, this time as The Monsters of Folk, promising more than two hours (more like three) of music that will include not only songs off their new self-titled album, but also nuggets from each of their personal musical projects. Lost in the event's hub-bub is the fact that $1 from every ticket sold will go toward Omaha's Octopuses Garden Art Alliance -- a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening community interaction through visual, literary and performance arts. Find out more at

Three hours in the Holland is almost inhumane, especially if the bar is closed. That said, I don't know how they'll keep the lobby bars open and not expect people to congregate there during the show (who remembers the OEA Awards show, where there were more people in the lobby than in the aud?). Tickets are still available at $47 a pop. Show starts at 8 p.m. sharp.

There's also a hip-hop show going on at The Waiting Room tonight featuring P.O.S., Eyedea & Abilities and Plain Ole Bill. $12, 9 p.m.

--Got comments? Post 'em here.--

posted by Tim McMahan - at 10:53 AM

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