The honest beauty of this record is humbling, and illuminating. Byrd had my undivided attention ten seconds in and sent a chill right up my spine. Nothing fancy, just something so right, so true. This cat has got it going on.
Thing is, I know Jon from around town, or thought I did. He is a very nice, understated man; I knew he was a well-regarded sideman, and I saw him most regularly as the doorman at the Billy Block shows. So, naturally, I took the CD he offered me at the door recently, and had heard it had been favorably received. But when I put it on, I just couldn't believe it. For people looking for real country music, here it is.
When his weathered, compassionate baritone appears over a rolling guitar figure, it's riveting, the way that the early Jerry Jeff or John Hartford vocal tracks were; it even conjures comparison to Merle Haggard himself. "Jacknife" the CD opener, compares and combines the "mixed up, crazy" pearls of wisdom of each of the singer's parents in a classic song. Jon Byrd wrote that and three others on the disc, and covers eight beauties, including the trucker anthem "Freightliner Fever," the Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down," and Doug Sahm's "Be Real."
Milan Miller did a stellar job on the production; it's not only primal and unadorned, it's got that timeless feel that is very difficult to create. I'm not even sure you can do it on purpose. But that is what happened. And it all really hangs on the voice of Jon Byrd, and there's not a moment where it falls short. You're always listening to a good man, not just a great singer.
I keep listening to the first thirty seconds of this record over and over. There's something there that you can't achieve with more or better instrumentation, pitch correction, or industry connections. I'm always very grateful to the musicians, writers, and producers that are keeping real Country music alive, while these radio consultants and the idiots that have to dance to their tune are perfectly happy to fiddle while Nashville burns. Get this record. • Frank Goodman