taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of the moment

Jonathan ByrdCackalack

Jonathan Byrd’s sonic variances are nearly as exhaustive as his awareness of his home state, and the fairly prolific Carrboro songwriter’s latest album finds him wedding his itinerancy in both regards. On the self-produced Cackalack, Byrd offers collection of songs that are at one end deeply personal and at the other mildly heuristic, utilizing the full arsenal of sounds he’s developed over his 10-year recording career. He revisits the bluegrass roots he put down on 2001’s Wildflowers with the opener “Chicken Wire”, where he not only relishes the opportunity to show off his splendid flatpicking skills, but reminds that sometimes the best bluegrass often achieves that status with a wink and a nod. He’s all over the grid on this album, hinting at the possible assimilation of gypsy folk influences from his time with Dromedary on title track and travelogue “Cackalack”, and finding his folk-y center on “Wild Ponies” and “Father’s Day”. On the latter, Byrd appears to be recognizing not a place in North Carolina, but a person, affecting the soft shiver of James Taylor as he sings a plaintive ode to the memory of his own father. Elsewhere, on “Dungarees, Overalls”, he’s playing loose and fast in the guise of John Prine singing “Spanish Pipedream.” Like Prine, Byrd has an uncommon gift for crafting evocative symbolism in his lyrics, but we knew who Prine was after his first album. It’s been seven albums for Byrd and it’s still hard to say who he is as an artist.