While lots of Americana finds its way between my ears from time to time, Ky Burt’s album The Sky In Between, due for release on the 5th April 2019, is a little different from most of the CDs in that idiom I hear. Ky’s self-written songs here seem somehow to reflect the landscapes in which he’s found himself over the course of his Midwest upbringing, his career in Arizona, and his most recent move to the Pacific Northwest, as well as the more internal landscapes that we tend to expect from a singer-songwriter. Which actually makes it rather interesting.
On an album mostly recorded at Tyler Fortier’s home studio in Oregon, Ky’s own guitar, vocals and 5-string banjo are supported by a range of musicians and instruments. Not only the usual bass, percussion, piano/keys etc., but also Nashville-tuned guitar, pedal steel and violin. His vocals are untrained, but pleasant – vaguely reminiscent of Davy Graham, though the overall sound and material here are generally nearer country than anything I remember Davy recording. In fact, nearer to country – or in places, country rock – rather than folk, whatever you may understand by that label. And the emphasis here is on the songs rather than on vocal or instrumental virtuosity, though the playing is never less than competent.
- ‘Midwestern Sky’ obviously reflects his Midwest upbringing, with a tale of a contented man who chose to stay in that region and “count the airplanes flying high in this Midwestern sky…“
- ‘Hard To Reach’ is a banjo-dominated ballad of unrequited or broken love, with nice interplay of fiddle and banjo on the instrumental break.
- ‘Idaho’ is a more upbeat song of travel.
- ‘All I Leave Behind’ is another ballad with a theme of regret, and does have a slightly folky feel. Some of the vocal phrasing seems a little awkward to me.
- ‘The Woodstove Song’ is a simple performance carried only by nice clawhammer guitar. It’s really rather a nice song that suits Ky’s voice.
- Electric guitar gives ‘Back To The City’ more of an appropriately urban feel, as do the harmony vocals. Another good song.
- ‘Midnight Cigarette’ has an old-fashioned jazzy feel, with some slightly unexpected changes. Collin Stackhouse’s violin is a particular standout.
- The atmospheric ‘Small Town Dream’ is described as “a lamentation of dying towns everywhere“.
- The sparse arrangement of ‘Maple Grove’ gives emphasis to a particularly affecting lyric.
- ‘Seeds In The Dirt’ is a nice story of rekindled friendship, mostly carried by sprightly, folk-y banjo.
The accompanying PR sheet describes the album as “Awash with painterly imagery“, and indeed there is something about these story-songs that does call to mind the social snapshot aspect of Edward Hopper. The more I hear it, the more I like it. If you’re a fan of Americana, give it a try: it might just surprise you.
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‘Midwestern Sky’ – live: