Jonathan Byrd
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Jonathan Byrd


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"Jonathan Byrd and Dromedary"

May 4th, 2004

When considered separately, Jonathan Byrd and Dromedary are respectable musical artists, particularly notable for their unique styles. Byrd, a North Carolina native, won the New Folk competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival with the traditionally influenced songs from his second CD The Waitress. He¹s even been praised by folk legend Tom Paxton, who discovered Byrd via the Internet. Dromedary, the duo of Rob McMaken and Andrew Reissiger, has played a handful of times at Barley's, been featured on NPR and composed
music for three films, one of which is Dirty Work, a selection at the 2004
Sundance Film Festival. Together, the folky Byrd and the world-music Dromedary create a sound that is both domestic and immigrant. The Byrd/Dromedary collaboration, The Sea and the Sky, is aurally rooted in
Appalachia with hints at deeper origins nestled within in the sounds of accordion, flamenco guitar, cumbus and charango. Byrd's warm, friendly voice, like a smooth blend of Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott, draws the listener into these familiar and foreign sounds while McMaken and Reissiger plink and pluck out rhythms and roaming melodies. If you¹ve skipped Dromedary's shows thus far, now is definitely the time to make an appearance. This collaboration is not to be missed. (Paige M. Travis)
- Metro Pulse- Knoxville, TN

"When One Plus Two Equals More"


The shift from great musician to great artist often appears suddenly, as events conspire to make transparent mastery a lifetime in the making. Without overstating the case, such a transformation occurs within The Sea and the Sky, the new album by North Carolinian Jonathan Byrd and our own Dromedary. Both Byrd and Dromedary's Rob McMaken and Andrew Reissiger have demonstrated exceptional skills in their own music vehicles, though through collaboration, the results surpass even the highest of expectations. The synergy is apparent from the first to the last notes of the album, something there from the start of their friendship, needing only the finest sculpting to fully realize.
Jonathan Byrd is widely known as a talented young folk singer in the classic tradition. His "Velma" has even became a standard of sorts – musicians such as Jack Lawrence and Larry Keel play the song in their own sets. What distinguishes Byrd is his range, from jaw-dropping picking to dark murder ballads to seafaring chants which could be from another age, all convincing and tackled with authority. Dromedary revels in the common ground among Appalachia, South America, Europe and Africa, creating a sound instantly recognizable, if seldom identified. The three musicians have superior interactive ability, and seem a natural fit.
The Sea and the Sky reveals new layers upon each listen. With a small chamber group of strings and accordion supporting Byrd and Dromedary, it's acoustic music as a springboard for new heights. It's folk, though not exactly. It's bluegrass unlike any heard before. It re-embraces the much-maligned "singer-songwriter" tag, gives new life to storytelling, to sophisticated arrangements, to concept albums, to a time when new sounds could surprise, challenge, move, inspire. And this does. There's jazz in there, jazz like Mingus' fullest conceptions, as in jazz is a spirit and not a set of chord changes or bebop rhythms. There's strains of distant lands integrated respectfully; Byrd's three Navy tours of the Mediterranean richly inform the melodies to create a suite of, in the apt press description, "longing, love, tragedy, and hope." The words reinforce this with wit and wisdom. A cast of lovers, sailors, slaves and slavers advance the narrative.
How did this teaming come about? Byrd says: "Before I released my second album, I began the process of finding a vision for the next project. Dromedary and I had just met and we were sharing our audiences by hosting each other in Athens and Chapel Hill. We worked out some songs that we could play together as an encore set whenever we shared a bill. It was always magical to play with Rob and Andrew, but some songs worked better than others and I took note. So, I accepted the challenge of writing material that had a Dromedary 'feel.' This was a silent and personal challenge, you understand, just a little game to play in my artistic daydreams. The muse was frisky and I learned a lot, writing fewer and simpler lyrics, in order to make room for the musical interaction between the three of us. I still didn't consider [what became The Sea and the Sky] a 'Jonathan Byrd and Dromedary' project until I presented it to them as a complete unit, though I knew that they had influenced it and I wanted them to do it."
For Andrew Reissiger, the interaction involves much more than music. It was a joy for Reissiger to help bring the music to life, as it has the surface meaning as well as a "political, social edge. The songs work together as a unit. Tellingly, the album begins and ends with a love song. In between, there's a young man wanting to prove himself, someone spiritually lost in the world, a person on death row seeking forgiveness for a horrible crime, and life after death, rebirth. Then there's the arrival to the other side and the mystical realm, then back to the ground."
The thread through the songs could only come from countless hours of refinement.
Reissiger says of Byrd, "He's a really sensitive musician. As eloquent as he is in song, he can be that and more in conversation. I love playing with musicians in a variety of settings, though it'd be difficult to backup any other songwriter as Dromedary. Jonathan's music in rooted in places."
Byrd explains the creative process in this manner: "Writing, editing, and arranging are all different functions that happen at different times. Writing is a pure artistic pursuit, like a child in a sandbox; nothing is wrong or right, it's just fun. Editing comes, if at all, when I evaluate the song later, like 'hmmm... is this song just for my own amusement/ therapy or is this something that I might want to share with people?' Arrangement is something I do to make a song work on a recording. Sometimes, just my guitar and voice can carry the story across the electric doorstep. Other times, the song wants to be carried by some strings and a bass. It's hard for me to tell until I hear it played back to me. Quincy Jones can probab - Flagpole Magazine- Athens, GA

"Best Bets"

May 12th, 2004
Best Bets

The Sea and the Sky, a collaboration between award-winning North Carolina singer/songwriter Jonathan Byrd and world-music duo Dromedary, is a lush tapestry of stories set to dreamy, swirling, Appalachian-flavored music. It's sort of the best of both worlds – because Byrd is a spinner of tales through song, and Dromedary's Rob McMaken and Andrew Reissiger are composers of sounds fused from gypsy, klezmer, Andean and Appalachian influences. So make that the best of many worlds. Byrd and Dromedary will play a CD-release show at The Grey Eagle on Wednesday, May 12. 8 p.m. $5. 232-5800.
- Mountain Express- Asheville, NC

"Successful Musical Matchmaking"

May 13th, 2004

Live Music Picks – by shane Harrison

Athens duo Andrew Reissiger and Rob McMaken blend indigenous music from South America and Asia into their compositions and improvs, which have provided the soundtrack to two films. North Carolina’s Jonathan Byrd is one of those rare musicians who are unequivocally folk – no hyphens necessary. His music’s reverence for tradition and its narrative drive recall an earlier era. Byrd provides a reminder of how powerful the genre can be in the right hands. These two seemingly dissimilar musical forces come together on an evocative new CD, “The Sea and the Sky,” a kind of short-story collection in song that brings out the best in both artists.
- Atlanta Journal and Constitution

"Jonathan Byrd comes to Capo's"

This rootsy North Carolinan may be the most buzzed-about new songwriter in folkdom. On his self-released debut CD, "The Waitress," he displays John Prine's gift for stark little songs that tell big, complex stories, Guy Clark's lean melodicism, Lyle Lovett's wry mischief, and Bill Morrissey's knack for the revealing image (in a ballad about a homeless vet, Byrd describes malt liquor as "the Prozac of the poor"). He seems a certain star on the rise, and is the feature act at Capo's open stage. - Boston Globe, Scott Alarik


Jonathan Byrd- Wildflowers, 2001 and The Waitress, 2002
Jonathan Byrd and Dromedary- The Sea and the Sky 2004



Jonathan Byrd released his first CD, Wildflowers, in late 2001. With spare production, these simple tales of love and death seemed to be a hundred years old or more. Folk legend Tom Paxton discovered Byrd's music online and wrote, "What a treat to hear someone so deeply rooted in tradition, yet growing in his own beautiful way." One of the original tunes from this album entitled “Velma” has become somewhat of a “new standard,” as other touring musicians -- like Jack Lawrence and Larry Keel – play this modern-day murder ballad in their live sets.

Songs from Byrd’s second release, The Waitress won the prestigious New Folk competition in Kerrville, TX, and the folk community responded. The Waitress reached #22 on the chart, and folk-mag Sing Out! printed the words and music for the song “The Ballad of Larry” and included it on their CD sampler. By 2003, Byrd had gotten the attention of writers like Scott Alarik (from the Boston Globe and author of the hip new folk travelogue, Deep Community), who called Jonathan "the most buzzed-about new songwriter in folkdom."

Byrd sometimes tours with the critically acclaimed world-music duo known as Dromedary. In the last two years, these young musicians have been featured on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, toured the East and West Coasts heavily, released 2 albums, composed music for 3 films (including the 2004 Sundance Film Festival’s “Dirty Work” co-produced by Edward Norton) and have had nothing but overwhelmingly positive reviews and articles written about them in the press (see Like Byrd, Dromedary has developed a reputation for consistently producing meaningful artistic work. In the words of North Carolina’s famed WNCW, Jonathan Byrd and Dromedary is “a perfect match that no one but them could have ever dreamed up.”