tue 31/03/2020

CD: Jon Byrne - Built by Angels | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Jon Byrne - Built by Angels

CD: Jon Byrne - Built by Angels

Can the former busker continue to deliver on his street cred?

Byrne: plucked from a London street by the Clash's Mick Jones

It used to be said that singer-songwriting was one style of music that would never go out of fashion. In the past few years, however, a glut of insipid twanging – Ben Howard and James Morrison, hold up your hands – has been sending many dedicated music fans elsewhere. The common complaint is that a genre that once brought so much real soul-baring is now reduced to drippy navel-gazing. And this backlash is a real shame for Jon Byrne.

It used to be said that singer-songwriting was one style of music that would never go out of fashion. In the past few years, however, a glut of insipid twanging – Ben Howard and James Morrison, hold up your hands – has been sending many dedicated music fans elsewhere. The common complaint is that a genre that once brought so much real soul-baring is now reduced to drippy navel-gazing. And this backlash is a real shame for Jon Byrne. He may sound, on occasion, a bit like Paolo Nutini but he’s considerably more interesting.

But what makes Byrne intriguing is not necessarily what his record company thinks. His press releases describe how he was plucked, busking, from a London street by Mick Jones from the Clash. These days, however, a great backstory doesn't go all that far. Everyone from Seasick Steve to Justin Vernon seems to have one. Byrne doesn’t need such mythologizing - he has the straightforward appeal of a good, old-fashioned troubadour.

Built by Angels, his second recording, runs the gamut from the satisfactory-but-unremarkable to material that would do Jake Bugg proud. And, unlike Bugg, Byrne has a real poet’s ear. On “Forever Chasing That Feeling”, for instance, we find him “hypnotised, watching the Chelsea Flower Show/ through a dirty Dixons' window”. Later we hear how, while existing as a busker living on unheated microwave meals, he would close his eyes and imagine he was Sinatra “playing cards with Sammy Davis Junior”. Such vignettes are what Byrne is all about, and the wit with which he evokes the sensibilities of a downtrodden dreamer is full of warmth and humanity. Elsewhere, when Byrne injects hints of Americana (as in “Lighthouse”), it adds beautifully to the sense of escapism. Byrne claims that if it was not for his imagination he would probably be “totally insane”. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, I suspect he really means it.

Watch Jon Byrne sing "Living the Dream"

The wit with which he evokes the sensibilities of a downtrodden dreamer is full of warmth and humanity

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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