Simon Joyner worked his way up with a variety of alternative Americana heroes, making fractured folk music that sits along side Wilco's finest work and Will Oldham's most obscured masterpieces. With a distinctive voice with its own subtle twang and disregard for certain articulations, Joyner speaks the language of country without speaking its clichés. Grass, Branch & Bone works at its own pace, as evidenced on "You Got Under My Skin", a track based around his vocal and a tracing guitar melody. It's unbelievably pretty, of course.
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This is a startling commitment to traditionalism: a cowboy hat, a reference to “Crazy Horse”, organs and a whole lot more where that came from. Simon Joyner was born just in time to do the whole alt-country thing with his pals on Woodsist, but he wants to go further back, to a time when folk rock was the one true way. There is a song on here called “Nostalgia Blues”, you know: let’s hop in the time machine you made out of twine and head back with Joyner.
The starting point for Joyner’s songs is as per: a sighing voice and a spare acoustic guitar starts proceedings, firm, picked patterns driving tunes like “You Got Under My Skin”; the band behind him are navigated by his sparse arrangements, with bass, cello and violins coming in softly, as if soundtracking the barn being swept. Depending on your mileage, it’s either a steady or sluggish listen; Joyner’s not one to rush, and his songs go for up to eight stanzas at a time, echoing his folk heroes’ lack of editorship.
The best moments are the most countrified; the momentary twang of “Jeffersson Reed” is blissfully refreshing, akin to a cold breeze permeating a stuffy room. Joyner gives his best on “Some Fathers”, sounding like Neil Young losing it; he tries to procure a piano ballad, then brings in guitar with distant twang. His voice, at the centre, is vulnerable and creaking. More freewheeling like this, and Joyner is a songwriter to behold.
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