Hillbilly Highway – Jonathan Byrd, real dang deal

Musician Jonathan Byrd at his home in Hillsborough, NC.

by Sheldon Birnie

“The snow’s like a ghost of cocaine on the highway, it shifts and plays tricks on your mind. The wind is like razors. In only two days, you’ve done 200,000 white lines.”

That’s some heavy Highway poetry, boss. Seriously.

And that’s just one of the hard won lyrics Jonathan Byrd lays on the listener on just the first tune, and title track, off Byrd’s 2008 album The Law & The Lonesome. The rest of Byrd’s catalogue is chock full of such poetry. And Friday, he returns to the Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club, where you will find a room full of people — myself included — waiting on each and every line.

Byrd, who hails from North Carolina, is as hardworking a songwriter as they come. He performs regularly, from Texas to the Netherlands, Ontario to Oklahoma, and just about everywhere in between. And when he’s not travelling the Highway, he wakes before dawn to write for a few hours before his family awakes. His praises are sung by just about anyone who’s ever crossed paths with his work, and he’s about as humble as they come in person. This guy is just the real dang deal, buddy.

I was introduced to Byrd’s music by Corin Raymond, who is not only a major Byrd booster, but a collaborator as well. They recently toured Texas together. In his Paper Nickels Songbook, Raymond writes that “I’ve had many chances to watch Jonathan Byrd and I know now that he encompasses American roots music.” And from his Facebook page, Raymond had this to say about Byrd’s upcoming Western shows, where he’ll be accompanied by Alexa Dirks and Andrina Turenne: “Do not, do not, do NOT miss this man, the album he’s bringin’, or the gals who are with him on this trip. Oh man.”

And the album he’s bringing? I can only guess (and hope) that it’s the long awaited You Can’t Outrun the Radio. The rumour has it the album, which has enjoyed cult status, was recorded on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in the dead of a Manitoba Winter by Jaxon Haldane. And the players? A laundry list of local folk royalty, including Grant Siemens, Joanna Miller, Alexa, Andrina, and more. Time will have to tell if that’s the case. Regardless, you don’t want to miss this show. I caught the gig where they played the album almost two years ago now (or am I crazy? was it that long ago?) at the Times, and it comes back to me regularly. Take a peak at the video below, and I’ll see you at the Times on Friday.

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