It’s perhaps a little less than fair to fingerpicking acoustic guitarist C Joynes that I write this review having reached saturation point with the kind of music he is a more than capable exponent of. If you are looking for a record that might evoke a dimly lit antiquity, or a sun bleached track through the midst of a pre-industrial harvest, he will consistently reward you. If you are looking for those lines to be blurred with your waking world, without the assistance of visual imagery to manipulate and animate the static landscapes he paints, I would suggest looking elsewhere.
I get the impression that if something truly awe inspiring were to surface on this record it would grab me and shake off the malaise, quiet the voices that suggest to me that ‘Lay You Down O My Brother’ is a sleepier rendition of Jack Rose’s ‘Kensington Blues’, which could itself be a jauntier version of Fahey’s ‘Sunflower River Blues’ which could itself be… If all you’re listening out for is the barred chord and the thrumming of the drop tuned bottom string much of this music can blur and lose its potential colour. Me, I need some kind of catalyst to keep the motor ticking, and I feel that Joynes doesn’t inject enough fire. But I have to point out here that I feel the same way about a lot of Fahey’s work, so please bear that in mind.
Here, and on ‘Skip James on the Triumph of Death’ (a reference which I don’t have the knowledge to follow) he picks at a similar plod to Fahey on The Legend of Blind Joe Death making the latter half’s increase in pace seem like a gallop, when it is in fact a canter at best. It’s a neat trick for a musician who values precision over speed. The record does get close to taking me away now and again. Sometimes my interest remains throughout a song and at others, ‘The Autumn Leaves’ particularly, it dissipates as the music fades into what strikes me as a stylistic dead end. The “prepared guitar” of ‘Nyambai Sawmill’ has a Gamelan like clarity to it, but would fare better as an addition to a more realised piece of music, providing eerie contrast rather than an inadequate backbone. It’s a slightly overwrought piece.
The heavy electric picking of ‘Bones for Dogsi’ recalls the recent Chris Forsyth record I reviewed, but the oscillation of the guitar from one speaker to the other seems unnecessary considering the weighty sound and becomes a little gimmicky. Any chance for propulsion atop the rolling throb is wasted in a side to side swaying motion. Two of the tracks I like most, ‘I Love You Hanni Fuji’ and ‘Poison in the Well’ recall the soundtrack work of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, particularly for The Proposition.
None of this is intended as a sly attempt at labelling Joynes as derivative without coming out and saying it, he is an articulate fantasist on the guitar and a good fantasist necessarily uses existing archetypes to their own ends, like an illustrator perhaps. Is it easier for me, as an Englishman, to hear authenticity in an American and dismiss a fellow countryman as a stylist? Perhaps it is, perhaps that’s something to consider.
Towards the end of the record there’s a proper little gem in the form of the three minute happy ramble called ‘Out of this World’, a bright optimistic piece that shimmers behind a veil of reverb. It’s the kind of thing you might hear at the end of an episode of Deadwood, but better. The bare human warmth and kindness that ooze out of the final cut, which Joynes calls ‘Happy and Delightful’, is enough to encourage me back in for further listens, consequently lending the cockeyed hat-raising gestures of ‘Pretty Little Divorcee’s resonator, cello and banjo some woozy altitude. The entirety of the album is exceptionally well captured, I’m glad that there is no need to cover up poor recording technique with gimmickry.
The more I have listened to this record the more I have liked it, but the dignified repose of its finer moments are somewhat sabotaged by the unnecessary adornments that deck out its middle regions.