Cassette Corner: Simon Joyner - "A Rag of Colts"

Simon Joyner - A Rag of Colts (1987-2012)
(2012 Unread Records and Tapes)
"Raw angst"

Each time I hear a commercial featuring The Lumineers' droll single "Hey Ho", I grow a little more convinced that music fans these days have no clue what folk music even is. In fact, I've even begun to shy away from just about every band tagged with the now-broad genre. Luckily, Omaha singer-songwriter Simon Joyner has been quietly crafting homemade, honest folk music since his teenage years, flawlessly channeling the raw angst of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, as evident on his new retrospective tape A Rag of Colts (1987-2012)

The first track of this compilation tape is one of Joyner's more recent recordings, a cover of "Goodbye To My Loving You" by obscure 60s singer-songwriter Jackson C. Frank. Joyner's rendition of the song is more layered and complex than the original, yet no less tender and stirring. It's a slow burner with twangy acoustic guitars, building up into a lush explosion of bluesy licks and trebly drums, a droning organ gluing the whole mess together. It's a bit of an outlier on A Rag of Colts, though. Much of the album is quite hushed and bare,   like on the following track "Summer Is a Chariot". As an extremely stripped-down recording, no strum, no pluck is wasted. Although there's a repetitive base of the same four or so chords that make up the tune's verses, certain distinctions put an extra sprinkle of boldness or anguish on just the right words. As far as vocals go, Dylan and Lou Reed would be the obvious comparisons, yet I think that outsider artist Daniel Johnston's slightly rapsy articulation is what Joyner's voice most reminds me of, although that just might be due to the same scanty recording quality they share. The songs I find the most appealing on this tape are "Dizzy's Trumpet", with its protest song sentiment, and "The Aftermath", which makes excellent use of the harmonica, one of music's more underrated instruments. It also happens to be the track that most reminds me of the sixties; it could easily have been played in front of a few hundred Birkenstock-wearing twenty-somethings on the quad of a college campus. If you're a fan of music that puts distinct value on raw honesty, this could easily become one of the most-played tapes in your collection. Order it here. http://www.unread-records.com/releases/simoncolts.html