Simon Joyner is a brooding, introspective singer-songwriter who neither sings nor writes songs. It would be more descriptive to say that Joyner writes poems and delivers them in a manner that approximates singing -- but just barely. His voice falters at every chord as though unsure whether or not a melody lies ahead; his sense of rhythm is subservient to the whims of his immediate mood. However, his lyrics will stir the quietest part of your soul so deeply that you'll forget what a lousy singer he is. In this way, he's not unlike those other adored and notoriously bad singers Bob Dylan and Lou Reed (he's been compared to both). Yet Joyner is just as likely to conjure comparisons to Leonard Cohen, Will Oldham, and David Berman of Silver Jews. Like each of these vocalists, Joyner has attracted a sizable enough throng of devotees to justify an extensive recording career (ten full-length albums and an EP since 1992). So far, each new release has offered a more refined connection between his unusual voice and the emotional insight of his lyrics.
Joyner's latest release, Hotel Lives, continues the tradition. Picking up thematically where 1999's Lousy Dance left off, the album features a cast of closeted skeletons, estranged friends, rainy days, lost loves, drunkards and memories of outgrown personas. And though the album lacks a standout as strong as Lousy Dance's title track, Hotel Lives is an infinitely deeper journey. It features an extensive cast of multi-instrumentalists who provide layers of atmosphere and create a strange canvas by utilizing plaintive strings, underground country riffs, the clanging of distant bells and all the eerie sounds you'd expect to hear in a haunted attic. Hotel Lives is like a rock that's been sitting in the forest getting rained on -- a rock with no roll. If you run your fingers across its surface, you'll find a soft coating of moss. That moss is Simon Joyner, and if you sit there long enough, he just might just grow on you.
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