Jon Byrd: Down at the Well of Wishes
It’s a little confusing that there is a Jon Byrd and also a Jonathan Byrd who are enjoying notable careers in country music. Well, Jon Byrd hails from Alabama but has been based in Nashville for a while, making a name for himself as both guitarist and songwriter. He appears to be good pals with Eric Brace and Peter Cooper, two guys much lauded on No Depression in the past, and anybody fond of their work is going to really enjoy this album. Reputation, a song from Jon Byrd’s previous album, featured on Red Beet Records’ East Nashville Vol 3 and was a memorable highlight of that fine compilation. The man is clearly maintaining his standard, and on this new album mature songwriting is married to some classy playing, whilst Jon’s warm, slightly gruff but very relaxed singing holds the centre.
Sometimes it’s hard to know how to describe what you’re hearing; these days everybody (that I’m hearing anyway) seems to straddle several genres, and so it is with Jon Byrd. It strikes me that his songs make him sound like a folk writer – too personal, thoughtful and contemplative for real country. However, these songs come in a decidedly country wrapping; his voice has been compared to Merle Haggard in the past, which seems fair enough, and there’s plenty in the use of the steel guitar, Jon’s acoustic guitar and a little twang from electric guitarist Milan Miller that is very country indeed. Apparently Jon made his name mostly as an electric guitarist, but for this record he mostly lets Milan handle the electric duties, and he comes in full and strong from time to time to let you know that this is a band that can make a big sound when they feel like it. For all that, it tends to be little things that Jon Byrd does on his acoustic guitar that really catch the ear.
There’s a nice note on the liner where Jon admits his sidekick Alex McCollough reminded him in the strongest terms that they were making a record, not a “songwriting resume”. Quite right, too, so just nine songs clock in under forty minutes – enough to travel from the atmospheric Alabama Asphalt to the sweet sadness of A Fond Farewell without outstaying his welcome or having any obvious weak moments. The thing that lingers with me is Jon’s voice; like all the best singers he seems to have plenty of time and it feels like his presence as a still centre in a frantic world is a rather lovely thing. Though he sings of heartbreak and regret, there’s something enormously reassuring about Jon Byrd’s music, a refuge in troubled times.