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Music Review - `A Shiver in the Sky` by John Byrne Band (jh)

John Byrne BandA Shiver in the Sky (click on image to watch video)

30 October 2019 

 

Perhaps it’s because this writer saw Mike Scott and The Waterboys recently, in John Byrne’s hometown of Philadelphia no less, that the comparison seems appropriate. Given that Scott has been one of the most brilliant and prolific songwriters in the last four decades, he immediately puts Byrne in a special company. Both Scott (who has resided in Dublin for years) and Byrne, who was born there, seem to have similar muses and similar musical sensibilities. In fact, from the opening strains of “Special Place in Hell” the driving fiddle of Maura Dwyer is akin to that of Scott’s longtime sidekick, Steve Wickham. Yet, as Byrne’s album unfolds, it reveals a talented six-piece band of multi-instrumentalists led by producer Andy Keenan, who marry the traditional with the contemporary, moving seamlessly from the opening rock to a prevailing folk-rock mode which ensues on the second track, “All in All.”. The band brings various strings, horns and guitars to Byrne’s well-crafted songs, mostly about determination.  

Another reference point could be the songwriter Ben Glover who splits his time between Ireland and the states, but Glover is a darker voice than Byrne, who continually urges us to keep up the good fight. On this set of songs he says, “Things will happen to you, and they can be immensely painful, but they will pass. And if you don’t let them break you there will be a new version  of yourself that emerges and has learned the skills to live with this pain.” The title represents the past, it’s remnants of trauma that never really leaves but fades with time. Some of his songs are autobiographical while others are based on observations about relationships, addiction, immigration, prejudice, and getting past mistakes. As brilliant as the musicians are, they are here to support his songs, which prove remarkably rich lyrically and musically laden with many textures.

Gleaning the titles, it’s clear this is not your run-of-the-mill agenda with “Special Place in Hell,” “Times Ain’t Changed a Thing in This Town,” and “Easy to Get Stuck Here” as some examples, all with a thread of struggle inherent. These are the kind of songs that take on additional meaning with repeated listens. “Special Place in Hell,” is a phrase you may have heard as a destination for a particularly ruthless character but in this case, it’s two lovers going through their own personal dark periods finding solace in each other, so the endpoint is ironically uplifting. “All in All” is an attempt at unity in these divided times while the mournful “Hard Living Lovers” and its indelibly memorable line – “all those hard-living lovers dropping like flies,” chronicles the many lost to addiction and depression. 

The tempo and mood brighten for the shuffling “Just Like You,” an ode to a friend who conquered addiction and is now helping others do the same, punctuated with bright trumpet, trombone and fiddle spots. Byrne again shows that he has a pulse on our current state when singing “Things Ain’t Changed a Thing in This Town,” about the plight of small town America and the ability to cling to rooted values amidst the growing divide. “Ghost of a Chance “ has the line “asked for nothing, got nothing in return so we’ll face the music, find another song to learn” in characterizing a “love can be tough” song. The cello and horn parts are especially effective in creating a somber backdrop.

“Hold That Against Me” weighs the defiant and the celebratory as Byrne sings about the struggle for acceptance for his gay brother while acknowledging the progress made ion that issue, especially in Ireland. “Your Love Is All There Is” is a bright and straight forward ode to love. “Easy to Get Stuck Here” is ostensibly about immigration, specifically for Byrne as an Irish immigrant but its meaning becomes more universal as one can easily be stuck in a job, a town, a relationship, or even a state of mind. His lyric “hard to come home” lingers. Byrne closes with one of most Celtic tunes in “As the Crow Flies” to a land that is “pure singalong.” We all need to get to a happy place or find a smile and hug amidst the madness. 

In the meantime, Byrne’s music can be soothing, provocative, and even uplifting when one listens carefully. These are terrific insightful songs, impeccably rendered and produced. It could and should be Byrne’s breakout album.

 

 

Jim Hynes

 

 

Jim Hynes is an independent contributor on music for several magazines, including Elmore and Country Standard Time. He has also written for Variety. He was a listener-supported public station(s) radio host for 25 years in CT, MI, NJ and PA. He is also a Live music host/Emcee at several national and regional venues.

To Read All of Jim's Reviews, Click Here

 

 


 

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