Lonesome Onry and Mean: Jon Byrd Tunes Up Country

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When you open the mail and find a record like Jon Byrd's Byrd’s Auto Parts, for a moment things seem right with the music world. Byrd lives in Nashville, but his music and ethic is so outside Music Row’s corporate-decision-making, public-opinion-molding, radio-program-director-strategerizing that he might as well reside in West Texas or Appalachia.

Byrd treats country music like a religion; the man would no more cut a song like Keith Urban’s “You Look Good in My Shirt” than expose himself in a Sunday School class. What he will do is cut a honky tonk version of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” that makes us realize all the ache Lennon and McCartney could hide inside a poppy classic. It sure doesn’t do Byrd’s honky-tonk cred any harm when he follows "Don't Let Me Down" with a steel-guitar-loaded Doug Sahm obscurity, the too-real “Be Real,” or that he can make Neil Young’s “(When You’re On) the Losing End” sound like it was written in Ernest Tubb’s tour bus.

When Byrd unleashes his Tele-whanger on Red Sovine’s trucker classic “Freightliner Fever,” it’s obvious the guy is a world-class picker of the Bakersfield school. And they just don’t write lines like “Son, what you carryin’ in that cigarette pack, I said I got my second driver, he’s gonna drive all the way back, it’s a big black pill so long and round, the drivers call it a West Coast turnaround, it’s for the fever, the Freightliner fever” anymore. Try to imagine flag-wrapped doofus Toby Keith singing that one.

Byrd’s own material, like “Reputation“ and “Jackknife,” sounds like classic country of the golden era. You can’t buy advice like “keep a jackknife in your pocket, just in case you need a friend.” His barroom weeper “One Final Round,” meanwhile, puts him squarely in the class with writers like Mike Stinson and Arty Hill - in other words, pretty much as good as it gets.

If you like country music, get tuned up at Byrd’s Auto Parts. Take a test drive at Byrd's MySpace page. - William Michael Smith

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