Jonathan Byrd & Dromedary
Some recording projects aren't not merely commercial endeavors but labors of love. The Sea and The Sky from Jonathan Byrd and Dromedary clearly falls into this later category. From the outset I had no idea what to expect from this disc, which, unlike a majority of its jewel case-enclosed brethren, comes in its own hard-covered book. I anticipated new-agey stuff with multiple layers of strings, synthesizers, and otherworldly voices. Instead I found finely crafted acoustic folk music with pithy lyrics and haunting melodies that draw strongly on pre-American English, Irish, Scottish, and world music sources. Think sea shanties rendered from a modernist perspective.
The Sea and Sky employs a narrative string that runs through the whole album. The uniting story line tells of a young man who goes to sea on a slaving ship, becomes disillusioned, despairs, but in the end returns to his home and true love. The CD's mini-book packaging divides it into two chapters, with seven songs in the first, and five songs in the second. Each song has its own lyric page, most with a dedicated woodblock style illustration. Partially funded by a grant from the Durham, N.C., Arts Council, the CD looks and feels more like an art object than a commercial CD release.
Jonathan Byrd and Dromedary came together through a chance meeting at a coffee house in Ashville, North Carolina, in 2001. Jonathan has two solo releases. The second one, entitled The Waitress, won the Kerrville, Texas new folk competition in 2002. The band Dromedary, consisting of Andrew Reissiger on flamenco guitar, charango, and electric guitar, and Rob McMaken on mandolin, dulcimer, and cumbus, have two CDs of their own. They exchanged discs after a gig and quickly discovered that they were meant to play together. On The Sea and the Sky Robbie Link joins Byrd and Dromedary on bass and cello, Jason Cade and Rex McGee on bowed fiddle, and Chris Frank on accordion.
While the packaging on The Sea and Sky certainly ranks as impressive, it pales in comparison to the sound of the disc. Engineered by Jerry Brown at the Rubber Room in Chapel Hill, N.C., and mastered by Charlie Pilzer at Airshow Mastering in Springfield, VA, The Sea and Sky ranks as one of the best sounding recordings I've heard in a while. While the phrase “audiophile quality” usually implies great sound coupled with a paucity of musical content, on this disc you get great sound and fine music. The Sea and Sky can make almost any stereo system sound wonderful, with its ultra natural harmonic balance, excellent inner detail, and superbly grainless musical textures. The wide range of acoustic instruments present on The Sea and Sky all come across with their own particular timbres intact. Yep, this recording makes your average CD sound like doggy-doo in comparison.
You may not find The Sea and Sky at your local mall music emporium, but you can find it on Amazon, or directly from Jonathanbyrd.com.