Jonathan Byrd & The Pickup Cowboys

by Jonathan Byrd

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    "Every Wednesday night, Jonathan Byrd has a residency at a little roadhouse called the Kraken, just down the road from his house in North Carolina. “I passed it all the time, but I had never wondered whether they had music, so I talked to the owner one day about the idea of a weekly residency, and we joked about it lasting for the next 20 years.” Byrd is a poet of the people — like his poetic heroes, Robert Frost and Billy Collins — and those Wednesday nights (a good bit shy of 20 years — so far) have given him a chance to connect with a diverse audience. “I like songs that have an audience,” he says, “and the audience is everyone.”
    Byrd is a cracking good storyteller and the songs on his new album, Jonathan Byrd & The Pickup Cowboys, are crystalline miniatures of the ragged ways we live our lives, the quiet desperation that shapes us or the unexpected love into which we stumble or the missed opportunities that fill us with regret or longing or unexpected joy. The title track of the album hauntingly evokes, for example, not only the loneliness of the road but also the wistful resignation (“driving to Sioux Falls with two bald tires”) and hopeful expectation (“fishing for breakfast in the muddy Missouri”) with which the cowboy lives his life. The mournful ache of a musical saw flows under Byrd’s vocals, evoking the whine of the tires on the road and the reflective freedom of life: “Good dogs get better ‘till they die / ’til they die.”
    “Tractor Pull” dances across the floor, with a nod to “Ain’t Living Long Like This” in the musical structure, in good old rockabilly fashion. It’s the story of two people who meet at a tractor pull, and Byrd’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics illustrate his way with a story. In the penultimate verse, the singer’s words describe the tractor and his new love: “It aint’ how fast. It’s how far. We got a love that’s built to last / Can’t nobody compete with her. She’s the only model in her class.” And the chorus reinforces this metaphor: “I met my baby at a tractor pull / She dropped the hammer on my heart and soul / I met my baby at a tractor pull.” Byrd provides just enough ambiguity in his lyrics to allow us to wonder whether the singer’s “new baby” is a John Deere or a woman.
    “The challenge as a writer for me,” says Byrd, “is to bring bigger ideas into bite-size packages. When Aretha sings ‘Respect,’ for example, everybody can vibe with that, but it has a powerful message. Sometimes in my songs I paint a scene of a certain reality and let the listener think about what it means. ‘When the Well Runs Dry’ is one of those songs; it’s a story that depicts a certain reality and you can see it happening as you hear it.” The song tells the simple story of an oil town’s boom and bust and paints a picture of the town in the good times (“The whole town’s made of trailers and the trains run two miles long”) and the bad times (“there ain’t no need to wonder what’ll happen when the well runs dry”).
    The spare and haunting guitar and harmonica on “It Don’t Make Sense” mimic the singer’s desolation and his attempts to come to terms with loss of love and loss of life. Even little mundane activities can’t console him: “I tried to tidy up the house today / but I couldn’t find a place for all those dreams we had / Now you’ve gone and taken all your stuff / you’d think there’d be room enough.” The urgent “Lakota Sioux,” written by Byrd’s friend Matt Fockler and propelled by Johnny Waken’s screaming electric guitar on the bridge, mourns the fate of the Sioux tribe, whose land and lives the government yanked away from them: “The blood began to flow and they went down.” The album closes with the beautifully ethereal dreamscape of “Do You Dream?”, whose lyrics float along the strains of Waken’s musical saw and Byrd’s guitar.
    Byrd doesn’t revel in conceptual or abstract songs: “The thing is I write a lot, and I write a lot of garbage that doesn’t make it anywhere. I don’t mind being abstract and surreal sometimes but I don’t want to stay there. I like stories that I can play in a waiting room of a doctor’s office; I like songs that connect with people.” The songs on Jonathan Byrd & The Pickup Cowboys connect with us in ways that we can’t avoid and resonate in our hearts and touch us deeply.
    -- Henry Carrigan, No Depression
    [ Pickup Cowboy is the one and only album ever made by the trio of Jonathan Byrd, Johnny Waken, and Paul Ford. In October 2015, on the last day of recording, Paul Ford was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Paul's cello playing was unique and fresh- many times you think you're hearing a bass guitar or a keyboard. We're blessed and proud to have this memory of the music we made together. ]
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  • Compact Disc (CD) + Digital Album

    You may or may not need the CD, but if you're a fan you need the booklet! There are 64 pages of beautiful photos, hand-picked and designed by John Dixon in New Orleans, that give you a backstage look into the van, the studio, and the home lives of the musicians. All lyrics are included.

    Includes unlimited streaming of Jonathan Byrd & The Pickup Cowboys via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.
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  • Full Digital Discography

    Get all 20 Jonathan Byrd releases available on Bandcamp.

    Includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality downloads of Live at NERFA, Jonathan Byrd & The Pickup Cowboys, Trio, Jonathan Byrd and The Sentimentals Live at Verkadefabriek, Live at the Red Clay Theater, You Can't Outrun The Radio, Bound For Glory, Live on WFMT's Folkstage, and 12 more. , and , .

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credits

released November 16, 2018

Jonathan Byrd - acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, glockenspiel, percussion, lead vocals
Johnny Waken - electric guitar, mandolin, keyboards, harmonica, percussion, musical saw, backing vocals
Paul Ford - cello and bass
Joanna Miller - drums
Alexa Dirks & Andrina Turenne - backing vocals

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Jonathan Byrd Chapel Hill, North Carolina

“One of the top 50 songwriters of the last 50 years. ” — Chicago Tribune

“...a folk singer with the heart of a rock 'n' roll band.” — K. Oliver, Free Times.

Preacher's kid, Gulf war Navy veteran, seventh-generation North Carolinian, guitar flatpicker, award-winning iconoclastic and spiritual songwriter. An American treasure.
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Track Name: Pickup Cowboy
Pickup Cowboy JByrd

He's a pickup cowboy crying up I-35.
He went and got his heart broke down in South Padre Island.
Now he's driving to Sioux Falls with two bald tires.
He's a pickup cowboy.

He's a lowly roller. He don't need much money,
living on buffalo jerky and tupelo honey,
fishing for breakfast in the muddy Missouri.
He's a pickup cowboy.

Good dogs get better 'til they die.
'Til they die.

He's an Indian summer back in South Dakota.
Sleeping in his tipi, living like a Lakota
with his long blonde hair and his long blue yodel,
He's a pickup cowboy.
Track Name: Tractor Pull
Tractor Pull JByrd

She drove a Farmall from '56.
I’ve never seen one do that before.
She backed up to the sled and hitched,
put in her distance and a little bit more.

I met my baby at the tractor pull.
I met my baby at the tractor pull.
She dropped the hammer on my heart and soul.
I met my baby at the tractor pull.

I saw that woman and I lost a wheel,
going faster than I should have gone.
Now I'm older and I've got the feel.
I can pull steady all night long.

I met my baby at the tractor pull.
I met my baby at the tractor pull.
She dropped the hammer on my heart and soul.
I met my baby at the tractor pull.

McCormicks are Red. Ford's are blue.
She’ll make that old hoss run like new.

It ain't how fast. It's how far.
We got a love that's built to last.
Can't nobody compete with her.
She's the only model in her class.

I met my baby at the tractor pull.
I met my baby at the tractor pull.
She dropped the hammer on my heart and soul.
I met my baby at the tractor pull.
Track Name: When the Well Runs Dry
When The Well Runs Dry JByrd, Charles Humphrey III

It’s all lit up like Christmas. There’s a skyline of flame.
Metal halide lights up the prairie night all the way out to the Plains.
Out on the low horizon, the sunrise burns my eyes
shining off of the tankers and the flatbeds hauling pipe.

We all need the money, babe. I can’t lie.
Ain’t no need to wonder what’ll happen when the well runs dry.

This whole town’s made of trailers and the trains run two miles long.
Some guys phone their money home or they drink until it’s gone.
Ranch hands learn to roughneck. They’re all lined up to work.
There’s another boom and there ain’t no room so they sleep out in their trucks.

We all need the money, babe. I can’t lie.
Ain’t no need to wonder what’ll happen when the well runs dry.

Sometimes I feel I’m turning a wheel.

Dad took me down to an old ghost town when I was five years old,
where the miners bled with their dreams in their heads ’til the river ran out of gold.
I look over miles of burning rigs. God knows how much it’s worth.
Then the stars go black and the sun comes back and it’s time to go to work.

We all need the money, babe. I can’t lie.
Ain’t no need to wonder what’ll happen when the well runs dry.
Ain’t no need to wonder what’ll happen when the well runs dry.
Ain’t no need.
Track Name: Lakota Sioux
Lakota Sioux Matt Fockler

Summer is changing. Fall is in the air.
The geese are in migration. You can hear them up there.
The prairie's golden brown. The leaves are falling down.
The fawns have lost their spots
and the temperature's dropping down.

It was a big day I suppose when the Indians chased the buffalo.
Across the prairie in herds they'd go, till the blood began to flow
and they went down.

We ain't got no time, no to waste no time.
We got a lot of lives we got to keep in line.
Pretty soon the snow's gonna fly. You don't feed them, your people gonna die.

It was a big day I suppose when the Indians chased the buffalo.
Across the prairie in herds they'd go, till the blood began to flow
and they went down.

They like to paint their face. They like to paint their paints.
They like to decorate everything up and celebrate.
They like to congregate in a beautiful place,
dress themselves in feathers and leathers and dream their fates.

It was a big day I suppose when the Indians chased the buffalo.
Across the prairie in herds they'd go, till the blood began to flow
and they went down.

Then the cavalry came to take their land away.
They lied and died and lost every battle but they got their way.
Then they took their souls when they took the buffalo.
They took their families blankets riddled with the pox, and so

it was a big day I suppose when Custer went in for the close
and found himself with his pants down as the Indians rode around
and cut him down.

We ain't got no time, no to waste no time.
We got a lot of lives we got to keep in line.
Pretty soon the snow's gonna fly. You don't feed them, your people gonna die.

It was a big day I suppose when the Indians chased the buffalo.
Across the prairie in herds they'd go, till the blood began to flow
and they went down.
Track Name: Taking It Back
Taking It Back JByrd

The lottery's twenty million. You have to play to win. The factory girls are shopping for their kids.
This side of town is pretty safe this time of the day. Even Jesus couldn't tell the truth and live.
I got debts I can't pay. Sorry, try again. Ain't nobody hiring guys like me.
Three hot meals a day if I break parole. Something's got to give and nothing's free.

I've seen the light. I'm not taking it. I'm taking it back.

I love a fast woman. You have to play to win. I hope she doesn't turn the engine off.
There's a camera in the window that can't see my situation. I don't know what to do about these dogs.
I spend a dime to make a nickel. Sorry, try again. I never hurt nobody in my life.
I'm buying one last ticket and taking off the safety. I'll go over of I can't get by.

I've seen the light. I'm not taking it. I'm taking it back.

That's the story of my life. Sorry, try again. I might as well not even use the mask.
This guy knows my name. Hell, he don't get the money. If he's friendly enough, I'll give him half.
That leaves one last dollar. You have to play to win. I'll stuff it in the box for kids in need.
There's a thirty gallon can down at this end of the counter, slap full of receipts for empty dreams.

I've seen the light. I'm not taking it. I'm taking it back.
Track Name: Temporary Tattoo
Temporary Tattoo JByrd

I showed my love for you with a temporary tattoo.
I washed it off with the dirt. I didn't want it to hurt.
I was afraid someday our love would turn blue.
I wanted to keep it new like a temporary tattoo

You went under the gun to show me how much I meant to you-
a little rose with my name. It was the real thing.
You didn't understand you were wearing the brand of a damned fool.
All that I could do was a temporary tattoo.

I tried you on for fun.
You thought I was the one.

You must be sore. It’s hard to ignore a new bruise.
Now I'm out of your life like some Crackerjack prize.
Memories fade. Traces remain to remind you
I was only as true as a temporary tattoo.

All that I could do was a temporary tattoo.
Track Name: We Used To Be Birds
We Used To Be Birds JByrd

you look at me; I look at you
we used to be birds
navigating the night together
You come to me; I come to you
we used to be birds
calling out in the sky for each other

Now here we are and no one knows we used to be birds
It's all there in the hinge of your hand, in the way we turn
did you ever wonder why you looked to the sky to find me
I looked for you, too, then one day I knew we used to be birds

you dance with me; I dance with you
we used to be birds
here's a sweet little song to remind us
you say my name; I say your name
we used to be birds
on a branch in the night for the lovers to find us

Now here we are and no one knows we used to be birds
It's all there in the hinge of my hand, in the way we turn
did you ever wonder why you looked to the sky to pray for me
I prayed for you, too, then one day I knew we used to be birds
Track Name: Fish Out of Water
Fish Out Of Water JByrd

Hey babe I'm a fish out of water. I'm a fish out of water, throw me back in.

I been lovin you so long, it's hard for me to be alone.
I can't think and I can't sleep. Sometimes I feel like I can't breathe.

Hey babe I'm a fish out of water. I'm a fish out of water, throw me back in.

Sometimes I think if I get high, it'll help my wicked nights go by.
Mornin comes and I can't lie. I need your love or I'm gonna die.

Hey babe I'm a fish out of water. I'm a fish out of water, throw me back in.

I read the Bible and the Bible said, "Child, you're in way over your head.
You know your body ain't made to last. You need love, and you need it fast."

Hey babe I'm a fish out of water...
Track Name: It Don't Make Sense
It Don't Make Sense JByrd

Pussyfoot, a cat in heat.
Dinner's cold luncheon meat.
A butcher's block on lonely street,
I'm so tired and I can't sleep.
It don't make sense to me.

Recorded live and played to death,
I'm crying where we used to laugh.
Now I find I've lost the past
among a hundred photographs.
It don't make sense to me.

I tried to tidy up the house today, but I couldn't find a place for all those dreams we had. Now you've gone and taken all your stuff. You’d think there'd be room enough.

There was a time I placed a bet
on even odds with no regrets.
The outcome's in and all I get's
a future that I can't forget.
It don't make sense to me.
Track Name: Do You Dream?
Do You Dream? Matt Fockler

Do you dream? Do your dreams come true?
What do you see? What do you do to make it happen?

I caught another one. I'll chase one down for you.
We're on another ride, a carnival for a few friends.
See things like they should be, stand up on our could be, and dream dreams.

Do you remember what it was like being a child,
not thinking about the hard things, just wide open wild,
playing night games in the neighborhood, playing like grownups should,
dreaming like there's no way you could these days?

I caught another one. I'll chase one down for you.
We're on another ride, a carnival for a few friends.
See things like they should be, stand up on our could be, and dream dreams.

Face the music and cope with the crowd.
Stand out somewhere and look at the clouds.
Fact of the matter, fair and square,
straightforward and honest, you got to dream like you care.
No fair to the middlin', my fair, weathered friend.
Don't fall between two stools. You're the friend of a friend,
falling head over heels, like I did for you,
right over backwards and into the truth.

I caught another one. I'll chase one down for you.
We're on another ride, a carnival for a few friends.
See things like they should be, stand up on our could be, and dream dreams.

Do you dream? Do your dreams come true?
What do you see? What do you do to make it happen?

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