Soaring with Jonathan Byrd's songs


Jonathan Byrd is a bred-in-the-bone North Carolinian, son of a Baptist preacher father and piano-playing mother, and a songwriter who writes lean songs. He and longtime collaborator Johnny Waken, a fellow purveyor of what Byrd calls “chamber twang,” are on tour, with a stop scheduled at White Horse Black Mountain on Friday, Aug. 11.

Jonathan Byrd,left, said Johnny Waken, right, has "more rock ’n’ roll in his mustache than most major cities."

Following a Navy hitch, Byrd returned to civilian life by playing in Virginia Beach rock bands. At an old-time fiddle festival his imagination was captured by the directness and uncompromising attitude of Southern traditional songs. He started incorporating "rootsier" sounds into the foundation of his own songs, stark, sharp vignettes telling complex stories with wry humor and original imagery.

Byrd is fine with being labelled a folk singer, but his vision of the genre embraces Appalachian, country, old-time music and rock ’n’ roll stylings, delivered in a cowboy hat and boots rather than Birkenstocks. Although he’s Carolina to the core, he also been shaped by the Lone Star State and its bumper crop of great songwriters, such as John Prine, Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett and Bill Morrissey.

Waken, whose nickname “Showtime” hints at his lively stage presence, is a multi-instrumentalist and no mean songwriter himself. He’s been colorizing Byrd’s songs since 2009 with electric guitar, mandolin, saw, harmonica, washboard, banjo and harmony vocals. “My best note is the one I don’t play,” the consummate side man said.

More colorfully, Byrd said that Johnny Waken “has more rock ’n’ roll in his mustache than most major cities. He’s made out of wood shavings, bear grease and Russian vacuum tubes.”

Southern, traditionally

Who: Jonathan Byrd and Johnny Waken

When: 8 p.m. Aug. 11

Where: White Horse Black Mountain

Cost: $12 advance, $15 door