Glasgow’s Jim Byrne is something of a musical chameleon. Over the course of four solo albums and a couple of EPs as a member of The Bearpit Brothers, he has rooted around various pop, folk and tin pan alley styles while he will be fondly remembered locally for his fledging years in Clydebank playing punk and garage rock, including a stint in The Primevals. So far he has been firmly in the independent camp when it came to his recordings but for 4 Country & Folk Songs, he finds himself on the roster of Fox Star Records, a situation which allows him to proudly (somewhat tongue in cheek) proclaim, “59 year old songwriter signs his first record deal.”
Following in the footsteps of musicians as varied as Dan Hicks and Richard Hawley, Byrne delves into past sounds and reinvigorates them. Be it on the fragile and broken down country waltz of The Yellow Clock or the twanged telecaster thrums on The Holy Ghost, he sets the scene and then peoples it with his fine baritone croon and keen lyrics.
The four song EP opens with an eerie fiddle introduction to The Yellow Clock, a haunting song which inhabits the thoughts of a daughter returned home from her mother’s funeral. Surrounded by mementos, she surrenders into a reverie, almost hypnotised by the ticking clock. With rustic fiddle (by Kurt Baumer) and harmony vocals from Lesley O’Brien, Byrne paints a perfect miniature of grief and loss. This Heart Of Mine Is A Blind Blind Fool, in contrast, is quite jaunty as Byrne looks to Hank Williams and his ilk for inspiration, adding in a mild Jambalaya of swampy Cajun sounds with O’Brien again joining in on vocals.
Tell The Devil I’ve Stole His Crown Of Pain is a grand melodrama which neatly sits within murder ballad and Child ballad idioms. The culprit here is a shadowy and somewhat supernatural figure who is “born with the devil’s charm,” the type of character you’d be well advised to avoid never mind entering into a contract with him. It’s wonderfully realised with a lonesome fiddle providing the melody over a repetitive guitar rythym while Byrne comes across like Nick Cave channelling Johnny Cash. Cash comes to mind again, along with Lee Hazlewood, on the concluding song, Holy Ghost. It’s cinematic, almost widescreen, as it boils down religious symbols, spaghetti westerns and an old fashioned love story into one great pot boiler. If Quentin Tarantino is still on the lookout for songs to put on his next pulp film, then he’d find some salvation here.