I dropped in to the Radio Cafe to see Diana Jones, because I like her and her music, but also because she was playing with Jonathan Byrd. I still pay enough attention to the folk scene to know the people who seem to be regarded as one of the crowd that matter, that ring true, that hit home, that hit the nail on the head.
Sure enough, this cat drove the nail all the way in, he's got a stroke. A beautiful Carolina tenor, and a crisp right hand. There are lots of singer songwriters in the folk world that are good fingerpickers (as is he), but only once in a while do you hear a good flat picker. His bass runs between chords are Watson-worthy (it's a Carolina thing) and they lend a curious credibility to his story songs, like a frame that truly does a picture proud. There are a pair of excellent flat picking songs, compositions for flat top guitar that truly stand the man out in the crowd, so we include one in the audio clips, "Home Sweet Home." He's a very musical folk musician; the next song, "Being With You," has a raised fifth in the melody, don't recall hearing that in a folk song before. And he leans on it so its centrality makes it comfortable, like a strange painting above the mantle.
His stories are about people. About Angelina, the diamond crook in "Tape Full Of Love Songs," a love song with a great twist. About a waitress, the waitress he loves, that goes unnamed. About Stackalee, an old song, and its inclusion says a lot about the artist. There are, after all, lots of singer songwriters that think they made this stuff up.
Jonathan Byrd obviously knows where it all comes from, and he's got it all nailed--all the singing and all the playing, and that's why he's resonating so universally on the acoustic stages across the country, and hitting all the right best of lists.
There's a lot of old Country and Bluegrass in J. Byrd's playing, and it's always a pleasure to hear that carried on and carried off as well as it is by him. The man really knows what he's doing-his talented friends on this recording include Jason Cade on fiddle, David DiGuiseppe on accordion and Robbie Link on bass and cello, and he uses them all like a good cook. The other good cook must be Jerry Brown, who recorded, mixed and mastered at The Rubber Room in Chapel Hill. About production, not only does Byrd say Jerry really did all the work, he says in the notes that all of his successes have a little Jerry Brown in them.
This guy really knows what he's doing. Very highly recommended. • Frank Goodman