Simon Joyner

Grass, Branch & Bone

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Do they have campfires in Omaha, Nebraska? Because Simon Joyner's Grass, Branch & Bone sounds like the music some inspired drifter would be playing late at night on a cool spring evening, with some brothers of the road helping him out. Grass, Branch & Bone captures Joyner in his familiar, Dylan-esque style, singing with craggy eloquence as he and his backing musicians play his bittersweet melodies with bass, drum, and fiddle dominating the spare backdrops that wind around Joyner's tunes. After the stylistic wild cards of Joyner's 1993 collaboration with Dennis Callaci, New Secrets, Grass, Branch & Bone finds him in the sort of form longtime fans would expect, but if the dour folkiness of this set doesn't hold much in the way of surprises, nothing here sounds rote. This music may be quiet, but Joyner brings a powerful emotional force to the performances, with the simplicity of the arrangements dulling nothing in his vocals, and like the best work of his strongest influence, even if the lyrics don't always make a lot of literal sense, the mood behind them is never hard to discern, in particular the bitter betrayal of "In My Drinking Dream" and the wistful memories of "Old Dogs." This set of gentle but heartfelt songs feels emotionally naked in the best of ways, with Joyner sharing his stories with an unaffected emotional clarity, and the simplicity of the presentation and the crisp transparency of the production are a perfect match for the songs. Grass, Branch & Bone is a low-key triumph from an artist who had made a career out of demonstrating that in music, simplicity is often the approach that tells us the most.

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