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Jon Byrd Brings Classic Country To WV

Jon Byrd (left) and his pedal playing guitar player Paul Niehaus will perform in Water Valley Friday night on Main Street. The performance will be at (TIN) This Is Noteworthy, located at 16 South Main Street.

WATER VALLEY – There is a lot of music out there in the world that goes by the name “country,” and plenty of people who are willing to debate what is or isn’t “real” country music.
Alabama-native-turned- Nashvillian Jon Byrd doesn’t seem to have time for arguing. He’s too busy singing, and his plainspoken approach to the traditional music form speaks volumes on his behalf.

Alt-country website No Depression describes Byrd’s voice as “warm, slightly gruff, but very relaxed,” adding, “Though he sings of heartbreak and regret, there’s something enormously reassuring about Jon Byrd’s music, a refuge in troubled times.”

Byrd is bringing those dulcet tones to Water Valley this week, along with his pedal steel guitar-playing partner Paul Niehaus, a Missouri native whose expressive playing has been heard with a wide variety of artists including Lambchop, Paul Burch, Yo La Tengo, Vic Chesnutt, Silver Jews, Bobby Bare Jr., Calexico, and Iron & Wine, among others.

The duo, known around their adopted hometown as Me & Paul are appearing at This is Noteworthy (TIN) on Friday, March 3, at 7 p.m. Oxford singer-songwriter-guitarist Max Hipp opens the show.

Like many aspiring musicians and songwriters of his generation, Byrd was first drawn to music after witnessing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show as a child. Taking up drums for his high school band, he then moved to guitar and toured the country with indie rock bands the Windbreakers and the Primitons, all the while building his country bonafides with Atlanta’s Redneck Underground music scene as a member of bands such as Slim Chance & the Convicts and Ratchet Set.

Shortly after the turn of the century, Byrd relocated to Nashville, where he soon drew a following based on his solid songwriting and distinctive voice. These days, he and Niehaus play regularly around Music City, including a popular Wednesday night residency at Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge on the north side of town. They also perform with a larger band, Byrd’s Auto Parts.

“It was a gradual thing,” Byrd said of his turn toward traditional country music. “It kind of snuck up on me.”

He recalled traveling with Birmingham combo the Primitons during the mid-‘80s when band leader Mats Roden would listen to Conway Twitty cassettes in the band van. “I thought, this doesn’t make any sense. This isn’t rocking.”

When Byrd asked about the unusual listening choice, Roden replied, “Conway Twitty’s a singer, and I’m a singer. I’m trying to become a better singer.”

Following further exposure to other country singers through other musicians, grad school professors, and record store employees, Byrd came to the realization that “it can have pedal steel, be twangy, and be cool.”

“Besides,” he added, “every time I opened my mouth, I sang with my mom’s south Alabama accent.”

With four full-length albums to his credit, in 2021 Byrd released the critically acclaimed “Me & Paul,” a five-song EP that showcases the duo’s country roots with straightforward arrangements of a pair of new Byrd compositions and a trio of cover songs by the likes of the Louvin Brothers, J.J. Cale, and Byrd’s former bandmate James “Slim Chance” Kelly.

“Eventually, you come back around to your roots,” Byrd said. “Besides, country is music for grownups. One day, you end up with a busted heart, you’re just heartbroken.
“The next thing you know, you’re singing the blues with a twang.”

TIN is located at 16 South Main Street. Tickets are $10 and available at the door (BYOB).

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