Nashville-based singer/songwriter Jon Byrd—not to be mixed-up with another artist named Jonathan Byrd working the folk/country circuit—has usually relegated his time in the shadows to being a back-up session musician for the likes of Davis Raines, Buck Jones, Stephen Simmons and Suzette Lawrence. However, in recent years, Byrd has been moving toward the spotlight by becoming a consummate performer in his own right, which is now consolidated with his dazzling sophomore album, Down at the Well of Wishes, a strikingly rich collection of nine Americana originals. The thing about Byrd is that he has a well-worn and rough voice that could draw a comparison to a more countrified Leonard Cohen, and his engaging and engrossing songs are nearly peerless and exist in a class of his own. Down at the Well of Wishes is strictly a b.s.-free affair: these are simply dressed down (mostly) ballads in the best pseudo-Cosmopolitan country tradition that aren’t syrupy and saccharine, and invite you in as a result of their startling honesty.
While Down at the Well of Wishes is a slick and well-polished affair with an ear towards being played on country radio, Byrd’s choice of material is far from the madding crowd of your usual honky-tonk love songs. “I Once Knew a Woman” is a pining, aching song about unfettered lust that unwittingly gets transformed into spousal abuse, while “A Fond Farewell” is a searing ode to the closing of one’s favourite pub. Meanwhile, “Alabama Asphalt” is a bluesy, nimbly picked swagger of a song that growls with the ferocious intensity of a junkyard dog. In the liner notes, Byrd remarks that he and one of his bandmates set out to make a record “in the strongest terms” and not “what we call a Nashville ‘songwriting resume’”. The effort shows. While one could argue that Down at the Well of Wishes could use a little more grit and grime in the production department, a tiny quibble, the smooth and relaxed feel of the proceedings are a worthy balm to a genre that has its share of commercialization and crassness. Down at the Well of Wishes is simply a wise and mature record that gently ropes you in and makes you a believer in the power of Byrd’s particularly downtrodden vision. An all-around solid record.
// Notes from the Road
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