Down at the Well of Wishes
Longleaf Pine Records
4.5 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
At the intersection of Solitude and the Bleeding Truth lives Jon Byrd. Not only does he write with honesty and heart, he embodies those elements. His is a voice that holds history within straight-up, neo-classic country.
Jon Byrd is a Nashville-based guitarist and writer (from Frisco City, Alabama) who has found favor within the ‘East Nashville’ music community. He has appeared on a number of Red Beet Music compilations over the years; it was within those volumes, including last year’s Tom T. Hall tribute—on which his version of “How to Talk to a Little Baby Goat” was one of the most acute performances amongst an collection of superior quality—that I first heard of Byrd. His Byrd’s Auto Parts, which I purchased as a result of hearing his version of The Byrds’ “Reputation” on East Nashville, Volume 3, has become a much played favourite.
Readers familiar with Canadian folk singer David Francey may find similarity between their voices, while Willie Nelson—when he isn’t trying too hard to be Willie Nelson—is another possible touchstone. Whereas Byrd’s Auto Parts contained wonderful performances of songs from the country canon—Doug Sahm, Ferlin Huskey, Dave Dudley, Johnny Cash, and the aforementioned Byrds—Down at the Well of Wishes is a set of nine Byrd originals. And what a beauty set it is.
The title track is a complex lyrical trip (co-written with Doyle Primm), while the other Primm co-write, “In A Chest of Skin and Bone,” isn’t nearly as caustic as it sounds like it could be. Rather, the sincerity of the emotions are revealed within each and every line. I think that is where Byrd’s secret lays—his approach to life (and songwriting) could be wonderfully witty, dark, and acerbic—but he prefers a highroad warmed by late-afternoon sun.
“I Once Knew a Woman” serves as an alternate soundtrack to Steve Earle’s novel I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive: “Her heart cut like a razor / so I had to see her bleed.” “When It Starts to Rain” and “Alabama Asphalt” makes one feel not only as if they are in the south, but are of the south. “Another Day Gone” is a rare slice of time that you know you’ll never tire of experiencing: “they say a moving target, memories can’t find.” That’s the difference between loneliness and lonesome.
Musically, Byrd’s crew have it together. Adam Wright’s keyboards, including wonderful Wurlitzer phrasing, is central to the sound, as are Alex McCollough’s steel and the drumming tandem of Marty Lynds and Jimmy Lester. Byrd is an accomplished guitarist, and the notes just leap off this disc. Lovely stuff, and a testament to the production skills of R. S. Field and Byrd.
If you’ve never heard Jon Byrd, invest some time and find his music. Give it a listen. And then purchase Down at the Well of Wishes. In the words of co-producer Field, it’s “the nine song hammer.”