Note : ++
Origine du Groupe : North America
Style : Blues , Folk , Rock
Sortie : 2006
1. Open Window Blues
2. You Don`t Know Me
3. Answer Night
4. Medicine Blues
5. Only Living Boy In Omaha, The
6. Epilogue In D
7. My Side Of The Blues
« The only thing worse than blacking out is waking up just where you are, » Simon Joyner sings on Skeleton Blues, his tenth proper album, and it’s certainly not the first time that Joyner has made it sound as though he’s best not left alone with his own thoughts.
It seems fortunate then, for him and for us, that on this album he’s rarely left alone, but has instead the full-time backing of his veteran Omaha band the Fallen Men. On such earlier works as 1998’s Yesterday, Tomorrow and In Between or 2004’s Lost With the Lights On, Joyner’s sparse arrangements could cast his long-winded confessionals with an almost sickly, florescent-bulb pallor. Here, though, the Fallen Men feverishly work the bellows, pumping these seven overcast tracks full of unruly rock dynamism. Though their spirited presence virtually ensures Skeleton Blues to be the noisiest album in Joyner’s catalog, it also leavens the bleakness of his visions enough to also make it his most approachable.
Anchored throughout by Michael Krassner’s sturdy piano and Lonnie Eugene Methe’s additional keyboards, Joyner’s chief foils here are the pedal steel and guitars of Dave Hawkins and Alex McManus. On expansive tracks like « Open Window Blues » or « Medicine Blues », this group announce themselves with a vengeance, their furious electric interchanges naturally calling to mind Crazy Horse, as well as the most raucous of Steve Wynn’s post-Dream Syndicate work, or perhaps a looser, more countrified Television.
But at the center of the commotion is Joyner and his dense, poetic narratives. For several long stretches on Skeleton Blues he writes urgent transmissions in the third person, yet this song cycle is too uniformly dire and desolate for any real authorial distance. On the apocalyptic « Open Window Blues » he piles desperate image upon desperate image (« The cicadas forever throb on the fringes of the lens/ While I dance upon this shifting pile of skeletons ») so thickly his tongue can barely keep up. In doing so, he boldly mirrors the breathless cadence of Bringing It All Back Home-era Dylan, with the Fallen Men’s splintered guitars doing their best to keep the comparison flattering.
« Medicine Blues » returns again to these same darkened territories, with one eye fixed on the newspaper headlines (« What color is the ocean after the oil? »). But Joyner’s dread lifts uneasily on tracks like the tender country lament « Answer Night » and on the album’s dramatic centerpiece « The Only Living Boy in Omaha ». Buoyed by cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm’s graceful string arrangements, this latter track is likely the most gorgeous piece Joyner’s ever created, a bittersweet hymn to the imperfect homesteads we’re never fully able to abandon. It’s a vivid portrait of a place and the lives it contains as a recurring dream, as Joyner sings, « Parades, alcohol, and love’s swinging phantoms/ If everything rolls around again, does that mean we are free? » over a veil of strings and pedal steel as pure and aching as a late Great Plains rainstorm.
As always with a Joyner release, the biggest obstacle for many listeners will be his voice. Although at this point he sounds at peace with his vocal restrictions, his narrow range leads to melodies that seem like shadows or suggestions; as usual, his work practically begs to be re-interpreted by a more adventurous or powerhouse vocalist. After the rich opulence of « Only Living Boy », the album’s closing two ballads feel somewhat anti-climactic, Joyner’s narrators searching once again for a brief respite from their downcast isolation, those quiet moments when « a soft light lit in a bedroom can bring a tired traveler to his knees. » Yet with the reliable assistance of the Fallen Men, on Skeleton Blues Joyner is once again able to devise a good number of such transfiguring moments.