Grace Joyner

When harmony/back-up/supporting singers step to the front of the stage, the common myth centers on someone seizing the metaphorical mic and almost forcibly committing every eye in the house to them. This is a great story, but reality says quite the opposite. Take Grace Joyner for instance. After spending a long time in the situation, Joyner stepped out with her EP Young Fools. Now, with the cautiously assertive Maybe Sometimes – in C, she’s making statements immensely more powerful than craving the spotlight could ever bring.

One minute is all it takes to absorb the thoughtful and careful approach Joyner is taking on an album embedded in the process of personal growth. The stripped down bareness of her vocals appear right out of the gate. There’s a feathery lightness looking for a solid strength. Pain comes from a lack of acknowledgement before a completely abrupt ending. Lending a hand in all of this is producer Wolfgang Zimmerman, who worked on The High Divers’ Riverlust, so you know there’s a mutual appreciation of exactness from all involved.

What turns out to be a metaphor about a relationship based on humiliation and one-sidedness, “Knees” follows with an electronic organ that changes the landscape. Joyner takes an almost philosophical approach in how we put others on a pedestal in a form of bizarre hero worship, yet she doesn’t feel bad for the person who wasn’t interested in her but decided to choose a more enticing path instead. This is the first burst of true confidence garnered, but she’s not exactly saying, “I told you so.” Then, taking a nicely moving stroll through midnight, “Dreams” is an observant sleepwalker. The Charleston singer admits to fearfulness in regards to personal worries of being left out and another’s dreams. “Do you ever dream of me?” is repeated in a way that’s trying to talk to someone through a window without being noticed. Moving, heartbreaking, and intriguing at the very least.

To go back to the production, it would be a disservice to not delve into it more fully. Mellow tones are carried forth in “Real” with a sporadic drum work that is slightly aggressive – in a minor keys sort of way – as each beat is hit. Playing beautifully against an urgent call to live in the here and now, you have to wonder if William Wordsworth’s “The Tables Turned” would have been like this had electronic music been around at that time. Then there’s the earthy rawness to the acoustics of the beat on “Royal Stare” that doubles up on the emotive swooning that has turned into a general shrug. Yes, there is more abandonment, but coupled with this sound, if Grace Joyner is to be believed, it doesn’t make a difference to her anymore.

“Royal Stare,” which follows “Whisky” and its hypnotic synth of a frightening road you shouldn’t go down (but choose to anyway), starts to shed the skin of a thin weight that blossoms into a figure of poise. With a flittering dazzle of soft-80s electro, “Sick” illuminates the potential rebirth of Joyner on Maybe Sometimes – in C.  She observes a self-aggrandizing, hollow figure of conceit who has a charisma that attracts others, and she proceeds to tear down this structure while also turning her cynicism towards the crowd that follows. Clinched fist tension gives way to the youthful “Kid,” which sees her struggling with whether a potential match is worth it until deciding it’s not worth the effort after the way things turned out last time. Whether this is due to self-preservation or fearfulness is unclear, but it is clear it’s time for her to carry on for herself.

This clean break seems to be a positive, and the self-assurance continues to manifest itself. When Joyner tells someone to call her up because she’s definitely enough, you get a little chill knowing the backbone has straightened. Focused percussion hoists the seductiveness of “Call You Up” up a notch without crossing into campiness. And it’s from this newly risen level where the album, with its head tilted upwards, leaves us.

Yet another killer release from Hearts & Plugs, Maybe Sometimes – in C is available now. You can get it from the label’s website. Joey Smith