Essential New Music: Simon Joyner’s “Songs From A Stolen Guitar”

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Songs From A Stolen Guitar is a series of reckonings. Across 10 songs, Simon Joyner sings about about things that should and shouldn’t have been said, ambitions betrayed and ones that betray those who dreamed them up in the first place. But these reckonings aren’t terminal events; whether you’re beaten down or just got what you think you want the most, the moment when the truth looks you in the eye is also a new beginning.

All sorts of things make you take a song with you down the road. One is the truth. Even—or maybe especially—when it’s embedded in a made-up story, a song steeped in verity tells you what’s what. Joyner has never been a waitress hightailing it to a small town in Nebraska, but the way he doles out the details justifying her retreat on “Tekamah,” you know that no one is bullshitting you. But too much truth can clog the brain, so Joyner’s songs take you for a trip, slowly building a case until it can’t be denied. In the past, he’s been willing to rev things up, but each song on Songs From A Stolen Guitar moves at a patient, swaying gait that can be kept up for many miles.

Another thing that’ll entice you to bring a song along is a musical hook. Joyner’s hooks are in the details, a sung image you can’t get out of your head or an earworm that works its way further in. The circumstances of its making contribute to the sharpness of the hooks on Songs From A Stolen Guitar. Joyner’s recording sessions have often been organic affairs that let you hear the give and take of the musicians playing around him. Thanks to COVID, that wasn’t possible this time.

Instead, the album was recorded in exquisite-corpse fashion, sent from one musician to the next, and finally mixed down by Joyner and engineer/multi-instrumentalist Michael Krassner. The result is spare, with each instrumental detail—a vibraphone’s shimmer, a guitar’s twang, a viola’s sigh or the bass shadowing Joyner’s voice—registering for maximum effect, then vanishing. Between the truth and the hooks, Songs From A Stolen Guitar is a record that makes very good company.

—Bill Meyer

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