The latest taster from a respected well-travelled veteran musician.
Whatever your view on EP releases they do seem to be more of a thing these days and I guess it’s a clear function of the way music is currently presented to an audience. Here are four songs from Jim Byrne who at the age of 59 has signed his first record deal with Fox Star Records. He presents us with, ‘4 Country and Folk Songs’, described as a mix of roots-based influences (country, blues, Cajun fiddle and accordion, Scottish folk) and melodic singer-songwriter sounds from the 1960s.
Byrne is a sometime punk, moving on to garage bands and then in 2008 going solo and heading toward the land of Americana. Since then he has self-released 4 solo albums.
The opener, ‘The Yellow Clock’, comes with a little note exploring the context, as do all the songs presented here, which explains that this composition, taken at the pace of a funeral march, is the account of a daughter coming home after her mother’s interment and contemplating passing time, mortality and the ongoing generations as she scans the room. This focuses on the various household possessions and their associated memories. The track opens with a great skirl of violin (or is that reserved only for bagpipes?) with a half-spoken lyric and a simple guitar backing. Byrne’s receives accompaniment from Lesley O’Brien of The Carlton Jug Band – at times his own voice sounds a little strained on this first track.
The yellow clock is ticking / Is it counting you down?
‘This Heart of Mine is a Blind Blind Fool’, has a group feel though, in fact, Byrne plays most of the instruments with occasional assistance from others. Lyrically it focuses on fidelity – and staying true despite the temptations. It is described as having a Cajun feel with a, ‘Smidgen of 1940’s big band call and response’.
‘For this heart of mine / May be a blind blind fool / Got one true love / And that love is you’.
‘Tell the Devil I’ve Stole his Crown of Pain’, (great title) features a manipulative charismatic male and, as a nod to Scotland, there’s a ghost in this Murder Ballad type song which again features violin and acoustic guitar. It’s a song that particularly suits the artist’s vocal style and his singing is much more in command of the lyric than in some of the other songs in this set.
Byrne leaves us guessing with the final offering, ‘The Holy Ghost’, with only a few clues given as to the meaning of a song that he feels leans most heavily toward the Americana genre. It seems to be a tale of a love that contravenes some spiritual guidance or other – with a priest hovering in the background. A little bit of mystery is never a bad thing and the lyric lies open to listener interpretation.
Four songs aren’t necessarily a lot to judge an artist by and the accompanying literature carries a comment comparing Byrne to Cash and Cohen. Why you would want to saddle anyone with a comparison to two of the most singular and remarkable voices in modern music is not clear. Byrne’s voice does not hold up to such comparisons (few would) and musically only the violin – nice as it is – offers any real identity or focus. The songs are competently written, well enough played but the whole lacks the kind of sparkle that might make it stand out from what seems at times to be a very crowded market. The highlight might well be, ‘Tell the Devil…’ where the delivery and recording of Byrne’s voice are at their sympathetic best.
It’s only fair to say that there is a lot of positive comment out there about Byrne and his back catalogue and much of it by fellow artists so, as always, it’s got to be a case of listening and deciding.