Jonathan Byrd is an alligator shoe in a leopard-skin world. The new album, "This is the New That," turns everything on its ear and is openly challenging to anyone who has heard the Byrd.
Starting off with a blistering rip-off of Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," here converted to "The Cocaine Kid," "This is the New That" is full of gorgeous surprises, political threats, outlandish coquetry, and intentional audio weirdness. From song to song, Byrd calls out the ghosts of rock 'n' roll past and boldly challenges them to a lyrical update. Cocky, brash, beautiful, stark, poetic, and over the top.
Folk legend Tom Paxton discovered the Byrd's music and sent him a quick email, saying, "What a treat to hear someone so deeply rooted in tradition, yet growing in his own beautiful way." Back then, Byrd had just released “Wildflowers,” an album full of simple, old-school tales of love and death. Shortly thereafter, Byrd released the decidedly more country -flavored “The Waitress” and won the prestigious New Folk competition in Kerrville, TX. He set CD sales records at the festival, selling more even than the main stage performers.
For his third album, Jonathan approached his friends, the badass Athens world-music duo known as Dromedary, about making an album that grafted the roots of American folk music onto folk roots from around the world. “The Sea and The Sky” is the result, a vast, poetic suite of music that breaks new ground in "roots" music, expanding our idea of the base that we can draw from, rather than creating a new branch.
A native of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Jonathan grew up singing in the Southern Baptist church, where his father preached and his mother played piano. After four years in the Navy, he returned to Chapel Hill to play in rock bands in that legendary underground music scene. A friend of Jonathan’s invited him to an old-time fiddle festival in the mountains of southwest Virginia, where he began to assimilate the sounds of southern traditional music and write new songs in an ancient style.
One of those first songs was “Velma,” a murder ballad based on the true story of Velma Barfield, the last woman to be executed in North Carolina (in 1984) and the murderer of Jonathan’s own grandfather. This was the track that prompted Tom Paxton to respond so eloquently to Byrd’ music.
The Byrd is the real thing, fearless and unattached to the caution and calculation of the music industry. This is art for art's sake.