Immediately I heard the voice and music of Texas Oklahoma border recording debutant, Byron Dowd I recognised a quality you struggle to find these days in country music. For he obtains the perfect balance between traditional strains and new, fresh bright ideas. The last time I heard it was by the man whom I found myself thinking about was Hal Ketchum (the first time). His music reminds me of Ketchum on a number of occasions. Such the energy and story-telling narrative plus, there is a little Son Volt in there too. Other influences of his include Steve Earle, Ryan Adams and Ryan Bingham. It is his ability to utilise the feeling of world-weary ‘Six Feet Above’ and lonesome to the bone ‘Nowhere But Here’ (fuelled by a fusion of steel and electric lead guitar), and a desire for adventure that nail it best. He brings to life old freight trains, distant rolling hills, lonely barrooms, wind-swept desert and sunlight as it sneaks through cracks in the wall like few others.
Going back to ‘Six Feet Above’ I believe it is one of the finest songs I have heard in quite some time, with such lines as ‘and the champagne it tasted like dirt, though I drank it down for what it’s worth’ and ‘you won’t get burnt it you move real quick.’
The mandolin and fiddle warmed ‘Footsteps’ produces oceans of strong, world weary emotion as he speaks of Arizona being the devil’s highway and how he is just a big break away from a better life. Away from every day struggles and that sinking feel or worse still, stuck at the bottom where the only way is up and that doesn’t feel possible.
Swinging along at a merry lick, the keyboards, country lead guitar (and banjo, Kevin Bailey) ‘Stained Dirt’ is a fabulous opening cut and one that Ketchum and on a little imaginative James McMurtry could have written. For it is that good. Byron’s love of a soulful ballad and real life aspects is evident from the start and with the likes of the bittersweet ‘Hill’ that is beautifully warmed in organ, piano and subtle percussion he shuffles old memories like someone leafing through an old glossy magazine. Of the remainder ‘Keeping Gone’ has a little funky feel to it as he looks back through an old letter he wrote and with a feel of the south, Hank Williams Jr-like ‘Punch A Train’ shouts out the message, plus there is an acoustic version of ‘Stained Dirt’. The version accentuates the fine reflective quality of the song and though naturally, it lacks the drive and cutting edge of the other it does draw the listener to the lyrics.
Dowd had a fine core of musicians featuring band members Ben Moore and Cory Carroll plus Rob Wechsler, Andy Timmons, Brad Neher (and others) bass, drums, fiddle, mandolin, steel guitar, guitars, keys, piano and harmonica they all get to shine alongside Dowd’s own acoustic and slide guitar. The latter figures on the feisty, lung bursting rock stomping ‘Pompeits Dogs’ (that hammers the blues trail like it was ignited by the devil himself) and on closing tune ‘It’s All Sunshine’ Dowd not only underlines his talent but all but blows the previous cuts out of the water. Now that says something. Don’t let the moss grow over this guy’s music or dust gather for he Byron Dowd is the business, the real thing if ever there was! Remember the name because he is going to places and not just by train.
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