From rock to roots, Jonathan Byrd tells stories

Staff reports

Jonathan Byrd is a seventh-generation Carolinian, son of a preacher father and piano-playing mother. He’s a Navy veteran, and a writer of lean and spare songs. He and the Pickup Cowboys, who Byrd calls his “chamber twang” band, are currently on tour, with a stop scheduled at the White Horse Black Mountain on Jan. 15.

Following his Navy hitch, Byrd returned home to play in rock bands. But after attending a Virginia old-time fiddle festival, his sound began to shift toward a rootsier style as he assimilated Southern traditional music. He used the ancient sounds as the foundation for his new songs - stark, sharp vignettes that tell complex stories with wry humor and origin imagery.

He’s toured for 10 years and produced seven albums. Backing him are the Pickup Cowboys - Johnny Waken on electric guitar, mandolin, saw, harmonica, washboard, banjo and harmony vocals and Paul Ford on cello.

In 2006 Waken and Ford musicians joined the Paperhand Puppet Intervention, a troupe featuring giant puppets, stilt walkers and live music, and then linked forces with Byrd in 2009.

Multi-instrumentalist Waken can shade the band’s sonic palette in a number of directions, from noir-ish electric guitar tremolo to folksy sparkle. Byrd claims that Waken has “got more rock ’n’ roll in his mustache than most major cities.” Ford and his creative cello lines have been missing from the stage recently as he battles stage four brain cancer, and upcoming Chapel Hill benefit for him sold out as friends and fans showed their support.

Byrd and all

Who: Jonathan Bryd and The Pickup Cowboys

When: 8 p.m. Jan. 15

Where: White Horse Black Mountain

Cost: $10 advance, $12 door