FAME Review: The Barn Birds (Jonathan Byrd / Chris Kokesh) - The Barn Birds
The Barn Birds (Jonathan Byrd / Chris Kokesh) - The Barn Birds

The Barn Birds

Jonathan Byrd / Chris Kokesh

Waterbug Records - WBG112

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

There's Americana, roots, and even sorghum in Jonathan Byrd and Chris Kokesh's The Barn Birds but, really, this is folk through and through, no matter the paint, varnish, or framing. Folk music, after all, comes in many shades, but there's a certain foundation here that sits atop and below everything. Byrd & Kokesh are troubadors wandering the fencelines and Great Plains byways, picking up a night gig at a roadside bar, playing in a park for townies, and busking for lunch on a dusty street. More than that, though Byrd picks him some great guitar and Kokesh plays a mournful fiddle, the musical exposition here lies in the vocals and their interplay, the colloquy of two mid-West souls recalling the grit of the American personality long before the robber barons and industrialists made metropolises and malls.

One Night at a Time is pretty damned ribald, almost uncomfortably so ('n, boys, a few of us are gonna gulp 'n sweat through this cut), a tad more honest than most Plains poetics go, blending rural ethicality with square-dance lust. This ain't no kids song, and neither is Autumn, a dark puzzling foray into an emotional denouement, a closing scene no one's quite sure should be happening but that shouldn't go on breathing either. It's Too Late to Call It a Night is the most nakedly personal song, a slow lazy drawl of a ditty between about-to-be lovers finishing a bottle of wine in a deserted bar, a Waits-ian dilemma opus espousing the kind of problem we'd all like to be plagued by. However, all things being equal, I think I dig Sundays Loving You most, what with its vocal harmonies, light lilting nature, and naughty realism.

Interestingly, Byrd & Kokesh met as music teachers at a school in Oregon, discovered stylistic kindredness, and played The Sisters Folk Festival, so well received by the audience that they were bestowed as 'Encore Performers' and slated to re-appear in next year's gig. Jonathan was already quite well known (has several CDs out) but liked Chris' fiddle playing so much that he invited her into his fest spot. That day worked out so well that it was re-created in the studio in just 10 hours, and that's what you hear here. No interminable engineering gimcrackery, no fretting record labels, no bells and whistles, just good honest music played out right then, right there, by two roughed-up souls clinging stubbornly to old-school ways.

Track List:

  • We Used to Be Birds (Jonathan Byrd)
  • Hazel Eyes (Jonathan Byrd)
  • One Night At a Time (Byrd / Mitchell)
  • In the Light of Day (Jonathan Byrd)
  • Paint the Town Blue (Byrd / Kokesh)
  • Maureen (Jonathan Byrd)
  • Close Enough to Touch (Byrd / da Costa)
  • Desert Rose (Byrd / Kokesh)
  • It's Too Late to Call It a Night (Byrd / Speace)
  • Sundays Loving You (Byrd / Dick)
  • Lay Your Hands On the Highway (Byrd / West)
  • Autumn (Jack Hardy)
  • Do You Smell Something Burning? (Raymond / Vaarmeyer)

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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