After more than 10 years of releasing exquisitely evocative records, Omaha's Simon Joyner has got his work cut out for him; in the back of his mind, he must be aware that there surely is a finite point where his well of stunningly consistent material will evaporate. However, just when it seems that he has released an album that is unquestionably his magnum opus/career apex -- 1996's Songs for the New Year, 1998's Yesterday Tomorrow and In Between, or 2001's Hotel Lives -- he disappears for a couple of years, soaks up an entire ocean of resignation and wisdom, calls up a few of his buddies like Dirty Three's Jim White, and drops another achingly literate emotional time bomb on an unsuspecting indie public.
Joyner's latest release, Lost with the Lights On, firmly continues this tradition with what may very well be the most rewarding set of his career. Although he has long been feted with the inevitable new-Dylan/new-Cohen tags that many an acoustic-based troubadour has faced, Joyner simultaneously reinforces such comparisons with each successive release while surpassing them. Unlike other Dylan successors, Joyner has harnessed the intangibly epic scope that has fueled Dylan's most subtle work and made it his own. Throughout Lost with the Lights On, and particularly on its opening track, "Dreaming of Saint Teresa," he channels Bob's Highway 61-era knack for surreal reportage -- ("New-Hitler was embarrassed he ordered the wrong / murders and since they couldn't be reversed they / gave him Lucifer's") while adding levels of sly compassion and a pin-point eye for detail that can only be traced to himself via Cohen. (For illustration, check the entire first verse of the album's finest song, "Evening Song to Sally.")
And although it's also true that on several tracks Joyner's world-weary, in-and-out-of-key voice evokes faint but fond reminders of Leonard's delivery in his "So Long, Marianne" days, the emotional responses detailed in Joyner's ramshackle tales are uniquely his own. While Lost with the Lights On may not appeal to everyone -- the vocals and instrumentation are on the ragged side and the songs might be a bit too subtle for most adult-alternative listeners who should otherwise give Joyner a close listen -- it should appeal to anyone who cares about heartfelt music and wickedly well-crafted lyrical turns.