Dennis Callaci & Simon Joyner
Review by Kent Manthie
These two cats are, individually, both veterans of indie, low-fi, bedroom recordings. Each one has a history of at least 13 past recordings. Callaci has worked on thirteen past albums with his band, Refrigerator and also runs Shrimper Recordings, his own indie label. Simon, more of a loner-type, has gone the solo route, doing a lot of recording in bedrooms and basements, etc. for numerous small-time labels.
New Secrets is actually the second CD that the duo has made together. The previous one was done way back in 2004; Stranger Blues was the title and that album was as low-fi as you can get. The whole thing was done in a live setting, directly to a single track of tape as well as putting the vocals and playing the music on the same microphone throughout the whole album. Very intimate, very rough and raw, but a perfect match for their folksy-blues-roots style of music.
For their brand new follow-up to Stranger Blues, Callaci & Joyner have succumbed to the demands of high-technology sound recording and for New Secrets, used some multi-tracking layers, they’ve spread the mics out a little more liberally and the result is a bit less scratchy overall, but it still maintains a good, rustic aura and has an atmosphere that shines and they still know how to skin a cat, as the saying goes.
As for some individual examples: “Old Man in the Rain” is a quiet, plaintive pretty tune that reminds me of On the Beach-era Neil Young, while “Guitar as Guitar” is an acoustic folksy number that is transcended by a sheet-metal kind of overhang, with shimmering guitars flying all over, distortion and feedback included. There’s a little Big Star in there somewhere. But even more – “Guitar as Guitar” has this really spine-tingling kick to it that, while a bit slowed down, has a lot of emotion to it and the heavy-feedback/electric guitar doodling above it really packs a punch. “The Frayed End of the Rope” is also a memorable song; a brooding, melodic tune which has witty, insightful lyrics. Like “Guitar as Guitar” and “Old Man in the Rain”, if you listen closely you can hear a violin underneath the guitars. It isn’t turned up way high, but it is definitely there. For instance, if one was to take out the violin tracks on the mixing board, you’d be able to tell the difference. “Lost Invitations” is another good one, a song with heart, one that is a balm against loneliness; a look back at great parties and social functions past and all the wonderful memories they evoke.
I’m sure that we’ve not heard the last of these two songwriters. They’ll be back in some way or another – Callaci, with his band, Refrigerators and working with his label, Shrimper and Simon Joyner, who has added quite a bit of greatness to this album is sure to be making some more great music, whether more solo stuff or otherwise. I just hope that these two do another album sometime, I just hope that we don’t have to wait another nine years for it to come out.
I also really hope they take their show on the road. I’d be excited to see them playing at some quiet little club. I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open, just in case. All in all, New Secrets is an exciting album – something that isn’t the same old formulaic pop, but a thinking man’s album with deep and wondrous words on which to meditate. KM