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  • By Alan Richard

JON BYRD'S HARD, POST-PUNK COUNTRY



One of Nashville’s best hard-country artists, Jon Byrd also seamlessly incorporates 1980s and 90s jangle rock, alternative, and even post-punk elements into his originals and well-chosen covers.


As I wrote in this profile in 2022, Byrd may be Nashville's best gut-string guitarist and pure country singer — and perhaps the only country artist to have taught at a college for historically Black students.

 

Byrd’s latest album, All Your Mistakes, deftly balances his love for Johnny Paycheck and soulful country with groovy Southern sounds at times reminiscent of Tony Joe White — with a love for post-punk and power-pop thrown in.

 

I caught Byrd's show during AmericanaFest last fall when he opened for the great singer-songwriter Kevin Gordon at the funky Eastside Bowl lounge.

 

Byrd was joined that night by a full band, including his brilliant musical partner, steel guitarist Paul Niehaus, known for his work with the bands Lambchop and Calexico. Byrd and Niehaus perform most Wednesday nights at Dee’s Cocktail Lounge in the Madison section of Nashville.


Jon Byrd's jacket at the Eastside Bowl show last fall. (In photo at the top of page, Byrd performs with Amelia White and Paul Niehaus.)

At Eastside Bowl, Byrd performed the new album from start to finish, including City People, written by his late friend Mats Roden, the leader of the Birmingham, Alabama, band Primitons, with whom Byrd toured. Nashville alt-country artist Amelia White, joined Byrd on stage to sing some cool harmony, as she does on the album.

 

Byrd also sang These Days, a wistful tune by his late troubadour friend Buck Jones, the Texas songwriter with whom Byrd often traveled, and Woman Sensuous Woman, a 1971 country hit for Don Gibson also covered by Ray Charles.

 

Byrd turned in a great performance of Johnny Paycheck’s (It Won't Be Long) and I’ll Be Hating You, which always seems to have a slight country-punk vibe when he plays it live, his gut-string picking adding a little Mexican-western flair.






Byrd also sang Ian Tyson’s Four Strong Winds, a rather unlikely cover from the new album. He'd come up with the idea of covering the song with the help of his friends who gather for the show each week at Dee’s. The song has been done by Neil Young and others, but Byrd was struck by Bobby Bare’s version, performed in a major chord, which helped him see its soul.


“His voice was so plaintive, you don’t miss the minor chord,” Byrd said.

 

He also sang I'll Be Her Only One, a country ballad written with Kevin Gordon. The version on the new album was recorded with a full band and plays differently than the glistening, acoustic original played by Byrd with only Niehaus on their stunning EP, Me & Paul.


Byrd’s daughter joined him on the stage at Eastside Bowl to sing harmony on his alt-country cover of The Beatles’ Don't Let Me Down, from his 2007 debut country album, Byrd’s Auto Parts (named for his father’s old store in Tuscaloosa, Alabama). He dedicated the hilarious If Texas Is So Great, from his 2017 album Dirty Ol’ River, to our late friend Peter Cooper, the song’s co-writer.

 

Amelia White joined Byrd again on A Fond Farewell, the poignant song from his 2011 album Down at the Well of Wishes that he’d sung at a memorial event for Cooper, a brilliant writer and musician who spent much of his career at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum:

 

Your troubadour collection

Who relied on your affection

We never seem so lost as we do now…

 

A fond farewell, it seems so strange

To find such love and still be parting ways

A fond farewell with you I send

A fond farewell until we meet again

Until we meet again


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This article is an expanded version of the section on Jon Byrd’s All Your Mistakes in my look at my favorite music of 2023.

 

Also: Byrd’s excellent 2014 album of tastefully chosen covers by his own favorite songwriters, Route 41, is now available on Bandcamp for the first time.

 

(Editor’s note: In case you don’t know, Kevin Gordon is one of America’s most literary songwriters. His songs are poems about common characters of the South, or anywhere really, but he uses the language of the South to bring them to life. He delivers this poetry in Chuck Berry-inspired, blues-influenced rock that also strongly conjures a century of sounds from gospel, country, blues, and soul. He has a new album coming this year, and I can’t wait to write more about it.)

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