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C Joynes - God Feeds the Ravens

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Artist: C Joynes

Album: God Feeds the Ravens

Label: Bo'Weavil

Review date: Apr. 21, 2008

British finger-style guitarist C. Joynes calls his music “Anglo-naive and contemporary parlour guitar.” That’s a fair description of the intimacy inherent in his approach. And it also hints at the open-air mystery of what he does, his epigrammatic re-castings and re-readings of widely-traveled folk melodies and rhythms from a variety of traditions suggesting shared memories that might be intensely universal while seeming strangely out of reach.

The mass-production of cheap stringed instruments – guitars especially – was, of course, a crucial development to music around the globe, beginning in the late 19th Century and continuing to this day. It has spawned traditions as diverse as the bluegrass band, Indonesian krongcong, and griot guitar, to name just three. And no less crucial was the revelation of the solo guitar as a musical world in and of itself – a portable companion on journeys and around camp fires; an easy-to-carry tool of the trade for the peripatetic working musician, from piedmont bluesman to west African palm wine singer.

The music presented on God Feeds the Ravens, both original and adapted from folk sources, seems to grow in part from the creative intersections of tradition and invention on acoustic guitar that blossomed with the advent of the record collection. It shows a lineage from the innovations of British finger-stylists like Jansch, Graham, and Renbourn. It reveals even more an affinity with the influential steel-string Americana school of finger-picking that developed in the 1960s, a style that began with a reverential approach to reviving pre-WWII blues and ragtime, and quickly blossomed – it was, after all, the ’60s – into the adventurous and globally eclectic solo explorations of players like Fahey, Kottke, and Basho.

But it doesn’t take long to hear that C. Joynes has taken a noticeably different approach. To begin with, his playing eschews obvious displays of virtuosity, of slick moves and scalar runs or complex ornamentation. Indeed, the first thing another guitarist might notice is the spareness of his style – along with the extreme solidity and deep resonance of the way his right thumb hits patterns on the bass strings That resonance and steadiness of bass is important here, as it gives the necessary ground for Joynes’ spacious and deceptively simple approach to melody, to theme and variation.

Further benefiting from that ground and sense of spaciousness is something else at the heart of Joynes’ expression: the way he lets a variety of old instruments – guitars mostly, but also mandolins and banjos, in various states of repair and disrepair – sing with their own voices. Fret-buzzes, string rattles, and other sounds become part of the music in a subtle-but-clear way. (It’s an approach that is perhaps a healthy antidote to the fetishistic and narrow-minded attitude sometimes taken to vintage guitars and their places within musical history, something that has endeared Joynes to fans of free jazz and pure improv.)

God Feeds the Ravens unfolds as a seamless listening experience. The clarity and presence of Jones’s playing is enriched by its setting in an ever-changing variety of recording environments – from up-close and dry, to outdoors and awash in ambience. And some very subtle and well-placed sonic manipulations add resonance and mystery at times. Joynes’ brief liner notes have a slightly Borges-ian tone of scholarly obscurity that adds yet another patina to the proceedings. Overall, this is an interesting document of a deeply personal music that springs from and clings to folk roots: perhaps the composted soil of some not-quite-knowable sonic terroir.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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