Simon Joyner Out Into the Snow

[Team Love; 2009]

Styles: Americana, folk, Leonard Cohen
Others: Leonard Cohen, Bright Eyes, Bob Dylan

Despite Leonard Cohen's confidence and charm on stage — as evidenced by the DVD from his recent reunion tour — his voice sounded shot, and his backing band shat out every sort of smooth jazz sound you can imagine. It hurts to hear a highly talented folk singer unnecessarily fill his songs with instruments and fancy production techniques, and such is the downfall of Simon Joyner's twelfth LP, Out Into the Snow. There's something to be said for fleshing out a song, but Joyner has taken it to the extreme, crossing the delicate line that separates the pretty from the corny in North American folk music. While Joyner certainly has a powerful gift for lyrics and for melodies (even if he can't sing them), both of which keep Out Into the Snow out of the untenable country-folk garbage range, they can't save the album altogether.

It also doesn't help that he's begun to shamelessly ape Cohen himself. Once upon a time, Joyner was a lo-fi hero with an acoustic guitar and a lot of fantastic songs. Now he's ditched the tape-hiss altogether, instead opting for bright, cleanly-recorded pianos and steel guitars, which immediately makes these songs sound like a entirely different artist. In fact, it sounds as if Joyner is actively changing his voice -- deepening it, ridding it of its folk-warble -- in order to sound more like a young Cohen. On his previous album, Skeleton Blues, hints of Cohen were certainly there, but not to this degree. Every one of these songs seems to borrow some aspect from Cohen: his full-voiced and only sparsely-employed female backup singers; his creeping string parts; his sometimes regrettable slide-guitar — influence is inescapable, but sheer imitation is inexcusable.

Essentially, the Cohen-esque sounds and clean production detract from Joyner's music. While it may sound stodgy to denounce a musician for recording his songs properly and with a full band, here it takes away immensely from the intimate tenderness that so characterized his music. In fact, the stronger moments on the album focus primarily on Joyner's voice and acoustic guitar, perhaps with some other instruments acting as background. Standout "Sunday Morning Song for Sarah," for example, is a refreshingly raw love song, a little heartbreaking and sadly uplifting. When Joyner's at his best, he can break hearts in the most hopeful way possible; in these moments, he is as reinvigorating as a much-needed cry. But most of the songs on this album lack this quality, instead coming off as contrived and, as a result, harder to relate to. Joyner hasn't lost his gift as a songwriter, but he has unfortunately lost his sound.

1. The Drunken Boat
2. The Arsonist
3. Ambulances
4. Sunday Morning Song For Sara
5. Last Evening On Earth
6. Peace In My Time
7. Out In The Snow
8. Roll On

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