Hidden away on the edge of the folk music universe there is a museum, guarded by an elite squad of the Folk Police, in which all manner of music is trapped in glass cases, hardly able to breathe and desperately hoping for release. Sometimes exceptionally powerful music creeps under the door, smashes the glass and lets the imprisoned go free. So it is with Split Electric from C. Joynes and Nick Jonah Davis.
Both are well established acoustic guitarists but of late Joynes has been playing more and more fingerstyle on electric guitar and the album is the result of his desire to record this work. A number of tunes of differing styles provided the core of, but perhaps not a complete, track list and he approached Jonah Davis regarding the possibility of a shared release. The consequent album is a two hander, each player having a number of solo tracks rather than duetting; two different approaches to the guitar offering a balanced whole. Thread Recordings describes the album as ‘a series of solitary electric guitar explorations’ however, I think the definition of electric guitar here probably includes acoustic instruments recorded via mic-ed amps rather than the Strat or Les Paul the term generally conjures.
The album is opened by C. Joynes with The Running Board, a track laden with the crackling and distortion of a 1950s Bluesman pushing his amp beyond the limit. Three notes, three chords and then a run down…hang on isn’t that a typical Fahey phrase. And away we go, a very Faheyish tune under that 50s crackle. Grumpy old John would surely have been laughing with delight, I know I was.
The brash noise of The Running Board is followed by the crystal clear fingerpicking of Nick Jonah Davis on Poa Kichizi. The title is part of a Swahili phrase meaning ‘cool as a banana’ and the playing makes one think of Ali Farke Toure et al. The track itself may be a cooled down version of the Sheffield band Tropic of Youth’s song ‘Poa Kichizi Kama Ndizi’
The third track demonstrates not only Chris Joynes’s familiarity with traditional song but also his grasp of music from traditions other than that of the UK and Europe. A straightforward rendition of Bold William Taylor repeatedly moves smoothly into an Arabic feel and returns effortlessly to the traditional tune. The English tradition is drawn on again for tracks 9 and 10. Salmontail Spring is a version of the English traditional tune ‘Salmon Tails Up The Water’ and The Whittelsey Straw Bear Tune Molly Gang is fairly straight rendering of the Whittelsey processional offering lovely changes of pace.
William Sathya (track 4) introduces Nick Jonah Davis’s fine slide guitar to the mix. The tune is gentle and again shows the inevitable influence of Mr. Fahey. One cannot help but hear something of ‘Steamboat Gwine Round The Bend’. This followed by Endomorph Vs Ectomorph which sounds like an improvisation by Chris Joynes and which, personally, I found the weakest track on the album.
Proper order is restored by Nick Jonah Davis on the strange, eerie seven minute track Sigil Eyes. The ominous feel of this track being immediately dispelled by Chris Joynes delightful St Cloudy Apple Spring, a track equally as light as Sigil Eyes is dark. This pair of tracks are my personal favourites from the album and once heard it is very difficult to get St Cloudy Apple Spring out of your head. The following track Corksniffers’ Delight from Jonah Davis feels urban and bluesy while his playing on Scaraboo (track 11) is slow and stately, nicely complementing Joynes’s treatment of the Whittelsey tune. The album closes with Joynes, NC (there is a place called Joynes in North Carolina) returning the music to somewhere closer to Fahey’s inescapable legacy.
In a recent Australian radio interview, 2SER 103.7FM Sideways Through Sound 27/01/’16, Chris Joynes speaks of the influence, both general and on his playing, of the American Primitive school and the work involved in developing an individual voice, stating ‘…Fahey and Basho cast a long shadow, you’ve to travel far in the field of acoustic guitar to get away from those guys.’ On the evidence of Split Electric both he and Nick Jonah Davis are well down that road. More power to their collective elbows.
Review by: Nick Dellar
Out Now via Thread Recordings and available via Bandcamp: threadrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/split-electric
Friday 12th February – Cafe Kino, Bristol
Saturday 13th February – The Bank House, Bishop’s Castle
Spain & Portugal Tour
C. Joynes and Nick Jonah Davis have an album tour in Spain in Portugal during March:
16/03 – Benicarló (ES) @ Plug In The Gear
17/03 – Barcelona (ES) @ Sala Kino (presented by Formes Diverses de Vida)
18/03 – Madrid (ES) @ La Faena II
19/03 – Don Benito, Badajoz (ES) @ The Rincón Pío Sound
20/03 – Almendralejo, Badajoz (ES) @ Salón de Teatres
21/03 – Parede (PO) @ SMUP
22/03 – Pontevedra (ES) @ Liceo Mutante
23/03 – Porto (PO) @ O Meu Mercedes Bar (presented by Festas Productions)