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Old Album, New Review: Simon Joyner & The Fallen Men, Skeleton Blues

December 13, 2010

Simon Joyner & The Fallen Men, Skeleton Blues (Jagjaguwar, 2006)

“I am a broken bottle / Behind the stadium”

Skeleton Blues begins with an organ drone and an electrical hum. Opening track “Open Window Blues” slowly takes shape like an image coming lazily into focus as nervy tremolo guitar, sustain-laden piano, and a moodily descending bassline come together just as Joyner begins his breathless, evocative, and Dylanesque poetry.

And these are only the first of many sublime moments of harrowing, fractured beauty that often seem just on the verge of falling into clattering–if inspired–dishevelment. Image-laden lyrics rush to hit their marks like somnambulant workers running to meet the morning bus, getting there just before the doors close. That becomes part of the thrill of what is mostly a contemplative but nonetheless spirited record: Joyner is full of clever turns of phrase, metaphors, and provocative ruminations, but will the music keep pace? Largely, winningly, it does.

For all of its direct and indirect references to legends of folk, folk-rock, country and most combinations thereof, Joyner manages to honor them while still being distinctive in his own right. He’s too smart, too well-read, to aim for mere duplication–although achieving that in itself is no small accomplishment. It’d be too easy, and unfair to the extreme, to listen to one or two songs and dismiss him as just another Dylan copycat of The Basement Tapes-era variety. This is an album that begs to be listened to from front to back, to be pondered over time. It’s so densely packed that cursory examination prevents true appreciation for the craft at hand.

Joyner has taken the easily identifiable bones of Dylan’s electric-based aesthetic, wired them with an early VU nervous system, and fleshed this creation out in a unique  way. You could call him a throwback, but you’d be missing just how much he and the Fallen Men are doing to push the genre forward.

“Purple lips from the graveyard shift
said it takes a train to weep
But your broken tongue and tombstone teeth
aren’t yet drunk enough to speak

Well Time had its fault-lines,
even the laughter can slip through
When the hardest thing to imagine once
seems like the easiest thing to do”
–“Epilogue in D”

Recommended listening:
“You Don’t Know Me”
“Epilogue in D”
“My Side of the Blues”

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One Comment
  1. Wesley permalink
    June 8, 2011 10:46 pm

    Great review. I first heard this album when it came out and the lyrics to Open Window Blues and Medicine Blues are still a thrill to listen to.

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