New Bern, NC – INTRO - The recorded out put of Carrboro-resident Jonathan Byrd has been varied world music on "The Sea and the Sky," moody Spaghetti-western styled music on "The Law and the Lonesome" and electric folk on "This is the New That." His latest recording no surprise offers something different, though with a focus provided by his home state. George Olsen has more.
An album that plays out as a "love song" to North Carolina isn't too surprising from a man who makes the following statement.
"I grew up in N-C and my family has been here for many generations. I'm not going anywhere and I love it here. I love the culture and the food and the music and that was bound to come out sooner or later as a songwriter."
Carrboro resident and seventh generation North Carolinian Jonathan Byrd. What's surprising about his collection of songs about or inspired by his home state is where it was recorded.
"We did a tour, me and my friend Corin Raymond. He lives in Canada and I was going to do a tour up there in western Toronto and we were coming back to Toronto at the end of it and he said if you want to record, we've got all these great players here and I knew who he was talking about, we'd played together some so I said, sure, I'll think about it, I'll look at the songs I've got and see if we've got something that works and I did look at what I had and I had a lot of songs about N-C so I started sort of sculpting a N-C album."
So north of the border was produced a CD of songs pertaining to North Carolina. Jonathan Byrd's new CD "Cackalack" mentions locales familiar to residents, whether it's the barrier islands or the Cape Fear or Scuppernong Rivers. But Jonathan isn't just dropping place names in an effort to tie the disc to his home state. He's trying to present the diversity of styles which he feels are indicative of North Carolina's musical leanings.
"For the album in general, I think I was trying to put things together the way they were put together in an earlier day, and the way I feel like in N-C if I get together to play with other people they know different things people know bluegrass songs, people know old-timey songs, they know some country songs, somebody might play a current popular song and all those musical styles are evident."
Some of those styles are evident in the CDs title track "Cackalack" which would feel at home in a country, bluegrass or old-time jam. The word "Cackalack" is of undetermined origin and, in my own observations, sometimes used as a pejorative in describing North Carolina. That's also Jonathan Byrd's experience, and an experience he seeks to change.
"I actually heard it from other people say, I'd be touring up North and I'd say I was from North Carolina and they'd go, "oh, North Cackalacky." Sort of like they were making fun of the way we talk or something like that. It took me aback a couple of times. I felt like I wanted to own that word. It's such a fun thing to say. It's the sound of it sounds like a chicken cackling, it sounds like a train on the tracks, it sounds like a fire crackling. There's so many things that are N-C that are in that word to me, poetically, just sonically, that I wanted to own that word again and make it mean all those things."
The old-time music Jonathan played in the earlier-mentioned jam sessions is particularly close to his heart really where his music starts. It's long presented a bit of a challenge to him a performer enamored of old-time music who records all-original music, as with the CD "Cackalack." The disc features one of his earliest songwriting efforts "Scuppernong," a track that tries to balance original and old-time that he'd written several years ago but never seemed to quite fit the mood of a CD until now.
"When I first started writing songs I was inspired because I was hanging out with people who were playing old-time music, and they play songs from the old song canon, and you hear the same songs over and over again, and they're great songs. I was just starting to write songs and I thought these people could use some more songs. I wonder if I could write a song that sounded like so much like one of these songs that they would think it was an old song and they were just start playing it."
Though enamored of old-time music, Jonathan Byrd's recorded output has run the gamut a new Jonathan Byrd CD seems to almost always present a new Jonathan Byrd. Musically he's always been a bit restless, which may have been a mirror on his actual life. Now he's married, owns a house on the day we spoke he had to excuse himself for several minutes to talk with a repairman and has a one-year-old child. He explores the move from restlessness to domesticity in the song "Wild Ponies" which draws a metaphor between the fictional relationship in the song with the ponies of the Outer Banks.
"The song itself is about wildness. I think at the time I wrote it I was reconciling the idea of freedom and what freedom means and do I have to be wild and homeless and reckless to be free or is there another kind of freedom in having a community and having a home and having someone to come home to. So the song was dealing with all those issues with this guy and girl in the song that I think internally I was dealing with those issues within myself and settling down and buying a house and having a child."
And like those who do settle down, Jonathan Byrd's vision tends to look further out into the future than what's happening this weekend. That subject of past generations and generations to come provides the impetus behind his song "Oak Tree."
"In England they say, in England 100 miles is a long way. In America 100 years is a long time. I wanted to bring that sense of feeling small and just recognizing there are things larger than us and we can't take things that are happening now too seriously. We need to put them in a larger frame in order to get perspective on where we are and what we need to do right now in order to keep the planet alive for the next 7, 8 generations. My family has been in N-C for 8 generations. My son is the 8th generation so its evident to me we could easily have 8 more generations and I want them to have a beautiful place to live too."
The new CD by Carrboro-resident Jonathan Byrd is entitled "Cackalack." I'm George Olsen.