Leonard Mynx‘s last album Vesper was a stately wonder, composed of hopelessly depressing folk songs that hung on every note he let fall from his mouth. It was an absolutely riveting album, if an unsettling one. Son of the Famous So and So finds him in a more upbeat idiom, and while it’s less discomforting, it’s less attention-grabbing as well.
Like Dylan went, so goes Mynx; there’s a lot more instrumentation here, and if it can’t exactly be called rock, it’s something close. There’s intimations of everyone from Tom Waits to Bob Seger here (On “Sing Radio,” Mynx calls up both), making for a mini-tour of American roots rock. Son has its own charms and joys, but it inches a little closer toward what the rest of the folk world is doing right now.
Mynx has shifted his focus from vocal melodies to overall songwriting. It doesn’t seem like a big deal until you hear how different “Stolen” and “Last Time” sound. The forlorn horns of “Stolen” accent the vocal performance; the horns of “Last Time” are part of the structure (along with bass/acoustic guitar/electric guitar/drums/piano/organ) that rope in Mynx’s vocals.
Even the gorgeous, relatively stark “My Old Friend” fits Mynx’s vocals into a song, a departure from his former idea of letting the vocals dominate the proceedings. The result is a collection of tunes that mid-to-late-era Dylan fans will love, both for vocal and instrumental reasons.
“Stolen” and “Sail On” best reference his last album with haunting moods created by letting his voice and lyrics paint the whole scene. The lyrical structure on Son is modified to fit the new songwriting style, meaning that he’s less a literal storyteller than a scene painter on much of the album. “Sail On” dispels that, returning to his wordy, lengthy lyrical style that I love. He sticks a beautiful acoustic coda there, too; major props to that.
“Miss You” best matches his morose mastery of drawn-out, creaky vocal performances with his new songwriting idiom. It is easily the best song on the album, hinting that the best is yet to come from Leonard Mynx.
Son of the Famous So and So never drops below “solid.” “Stolen,” “Sail On” and “Miss You” are next-level pieces that stand up next to tracks by Iron and Wine, Bon Iver and Damien Jurado; the rest are average-to-good pieces that show a (hopefully) transitional stage in Mynx’s songwriting. Leonard Mynx is an artist you need to watch closely; he’s right on the verge of breaking through.
Leonard Mynx‘s Vesper is easily one of the most depressing works I have ever had the pleasure of reviewing. I love sad folk music, and in sheer volume of misery, I think only Elliot Smith can trump Mynx. When I get a package endorsed by Leonard Mynx, I jump on that stuff.
So, when I got Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt by On the Stairs, which Mynx not only recommended but played on, I was thoroughly interested. On the Stairs does not disappoint my interest, but it does take it in a different direction. Mynx has three songwriting moods: sad, sadder and “I’m rummaging around for the antidepressants.” Nate Clark, the main man behind On the Stairs, employs a much wider range of moods, although the two artists’ instrumentation is very similar.
The spare notes, distant strumming and sonorous tone of the acoustic guitars transfers over to both artists, but Clark uses it to balance his low voice. And by low, I mean his baritone dips into Johnny Cash range often. Opening track “Already Won” employs his voice to excellent ends, displaying his range and creating a memorable melody out of it. It fluctuates between tempered glee and pondering, which is an awkward sort of description, but the best I can do. Nate Clark creates intensely specific moods with his gospel-tinged folk, and that’s one of his strengths.
The ominous violins and distant drumming of “King” give the song all the drama and tension, as the lyrics don’t really tell the story. The ebb and flow of instruments does, though; if that’s not the mark of a powerful songwriter, I’m not sure what is. But on the other end of the spectrum, there are upbeat moments of similar power, as in the Southern Gospel-tinged “Heaven” and “No Trumpets.” I never thought I’d see the day where I praised anything even related to Southern Gospel music, but Nate Clark has pulled it out of me. Both songs are darn good and totally in line with the usually uncomfortable and overly-sincere genre of white gospel music. “Sing It Off Stage” starts off with found sound of a crowd milling and turns into an indie-pop gem of sorts. There are hardly any cliche or predictable moments on this album; Nate Clark’s vision is far past where I expect songs to go. That’s a good, good thing.
Nate Clark’s songwriting vision is similar to Leonard Mynx’s, but in a different direction. Both use spare instrumentation and lots of space in their primarily acoustic compositions to achieve a desired effect. Mynx’s is always depressing, while Clark opens up his emotional palatte to some genuinely happy moments amidst the pondering and meandering. The honest exploration of many of life’s facets makes On the Stairs’ Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt a highly enjoyable, incredibly interesting and very unique folk/gospel/country album. For fans of classic country, modern folk, Johnny Cash, low voices and unique (but not difficult) songwriting.
I came from a punk background, but over the past three years I’ve spent a lot more time listening to singer/songwriters than I have punk. The more I listen, the more I’m interested in the barest of the bare: chords, melody and words. This, to me, is the essence of songwriting; with no distortion, no band, and no gimmicks to fall on, the songwriter’s qualities and demerits are all that is left. And it’s artists that are okay with displaying what they got that excite me.
Leonard Mynx fits perfectly into that desire. If singer/songwriters are placed on a continuum where Damien Jurado is the quietest of the quiet and old-school Dashboard Confessional is the loudest of the loud (I swear, even his quietest stuff ends in hollering – and it’s great because of it), Leonard Mynx would fall toward the Damien Jurado side, right up against Ray LaMontagne and near Jose Gonzalez. That is, there’s not much clutter in these songs; they’re pretty bare.
It is their stripped-down qualities that make Vesper such an incredibly tight piece of work. There is not a wasted second on the album. Mynx knows that his strengths lie in letting his low tenor voice meander over subtle, sparse guitar accompaniment. And he does plenty of it. But he also knows when to introduce other instruments; forlorn trumpets (a la Bon Iver) appear with enough frequency to merit notice, and a female singer accompanies Mynx in some of his best moments.
The fact that Mynx knows his strengths and exploits them is what makes this album like a warm winter coat on a cold day. Sometimes I wish that artists would do more of what they’re good at as opposed to “experimenting.” Mynx doesn’t fall prey to this at all. “Robert” is over nine minutes long (atypical for a folk song), and it sounds great. There just isn’t anything wrong with it.
Mynx plays with other atmospherics within the context of his songwriting; “Many Hours” has a full band, while “The Reins” has a distinctly Bon Iver-ish atmospheric build-up. Several tracks nod to folk tradition and have harmonica back-up. But it’s all done in a very forlorn way; none of the tracks here get caught up in their own pomp and circumstance. These songs are incredibly straightforward, down-to-earth, and enjoyable.
Mynx’s voice and lyrics add a whole other dimension to the songwriting. The lyrics are good, but his delivery makes them into what they are. Even when Mynx is delivering lines that would otherwise be cliches due to their amount of use (of which there are a handful), the way he delivers them and the context in which he delivers them make them seem like Mynx just really, really means those words. It fully doesn’t matter that other people have had those thoughts; Mynx had them too, and they were just as legit when he felt them as when those who went before him felt them.
This album is wonderful. The honest, sad, realistic clarity of the songs makes me want to put the entire album on repeat and have it running in the background of my life. I feel like people would understand me better if they heard this album. Seeing as someone else wrote this album, that’s a pretty weighty endorsement. If you like acoustic folk (Bon Iver, Jose Gonzalez, Iron and Wine, Josh Rouse, Josh Ritter, Josh Radin, Damien Rice, Damien Jurado, et al.) there is no reason you won’t adore this album. I adore Vesper.
– (http://www.myspace.com/leonardmynx) Leonard Mynx – Pumpkin
Thoughtful, mature Americana/folk with indie leanings.
It is an absolute travesty that Leonard Mynx’s Pumpkin was self-released, because that means the amount of people who will hear this album will not be as many as it would be on a label.
Channeling troubadours like Tom Waits and the late Jeff Buckley, Mynx dives into the spirit of American music with fortitude. From the slight country twang of “Doomsday Clock” to the early American rock’n’roll feel of “Ain’t A Woman Alive” to the eclectic blues of “Bones” and the folk balladry of “Pony,” Mynx manages to keep the nine songs of Pumpkin as one cohesive whole and not a compilation of American song styles.
Mynx is complemented by an excellent band, especially by electric guitarist Nate Clark (Mynx throws in his own electric tracks as well). Clark’s simplistic style is very reminiscent of Jeff Buckley or Pete Yorn, going for quality over quantity. There is also some wonderful usage of slide guitar in several of the songs that creates a very western feel in them. Mynx’s vocals also lend much to the music. He has a soft, emotional quality that gives the album a cohesive tone. It must also be noted that, from this album, it is impossible to tell that Mynx and his band actually recorded this album as a live set. The music is that spot on.
Mynx does have a slight tendency to ramble musically. The shortest song on the album clocks in at 4 minutes and 15 seconds, and most others fall near the 4 minute 20 second mark. However, the folk ballad “Pony” clocks in at over eight minutes. While the song is excellent in its own right, it can be exhausting to listen to and very tempting to skip if you’re not in the right mood for it.
Basically, if you can get a hold of Leonard Mynx’s Pumpkin, do so immediately. This is an immense talent who deserves far more recognition.