Slapping you square across the face with steel, fiddle, and Telecaster guitar, David Adam Byrnes is here to answer where all the country in country music has gone. And no, it didn’t take flight to “Americana.” You want country damn music? Well here you go. So quit complaining about the latest Sam Hunt single and give this a spin.
There’s a lot of people out there professing the virtues of 80’s and 90’s country these days, but few really know how to dig into the heart of what made that music cool and timeless, and write and perform stuff inspired by that era where it resonates just like that old stuff did. David Adam Byrnes is one of those few. And after a winding road and many false starts, you can consider his new album Neon Town like a mid career debut.
Originally from Arkansas, Byrnes left home in 2008 to make it big in Nashville, TN where he landed a job writing songs and recording for the publishing outfit Better Angels beside guys like Josh Thompson and Ward Davis. But right after things were beginning to take off, his publishing deal fell through. Then in 2013 after catching wind of what was happening in Texas and how he wouldn’t be forced to write Bro-Country to stay alive, Byrnes started pointing his nose in that direction, writing and performing more traditionally-oriented stuff, and eventually moving to Ft. Worth in 2018.
There Byrnes began to find a home for his more traditional-style country music on Texas radio, landing three #1 singles on regional charts (all of which are on this new record, btw). But then legal wranglings with his label Silverado Records resulted in another impasse to him launching a big record in earnest. But here he finally is, assembling some of his best cuts, including many that have already been battle tested over the years, and all of which were co-penned by Byrnes aside from an old standard.
You can definitely hear a lot of Cody Johnson and Arron Watson in the David Adam Byrnes sound, which isn’t by happenstance. He cites these guys as primary influences. But unlike Cody and Aaron, there’s not really any compromise to the contemporary in the David Adam Byrnes sound. This is C-O-U-N-T-R-Y. But yes, as the peanut gallery of cynics will be quick to cite, some of the lyricism will remind you of radio stuff, and a line or two may make you wince. But it’s not David’s fault those knuckleheads on Music Row wore out some of the timeless themes in country music on crappy songs. Sue the guy for writing country songs about beer and neon signs.
Most country fans will dive right in, but even if you want to hate the writing of songs like “Neon Town” and “Beer Bucket List” because they lean too much on lyrical tropes (both which hit #1 in Texas), the strong melody and irresistible mood is just too much to deny. And if you want something more substantive and sentimental, check out the songs like “She Only Wanted Flowers” and “Signs.” About the only time Byrnes may go too far is the toes-in-the-sand Chesney-esque “Tequila Salt and Time,” but even when he’s a bit cheesy, David Adam Byrnes is still 100% country.
Covering the old country standard “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Loud Music” acoustic style at the end of the set works as a callback to the title track that starts you off, and illustrates that country music has always been about these simple themes, from the 50’s when Joe Maphis first sang the song originally, until the 80’s and 90’s, and up until today.
Too bad it’s not 1992, because if it was, David Adam Byrnes would have a hit record on his hands. As it is, he still does, just one that’s a hit down in Texas. Neon Town is probably not a world-beater, but it sure beats the piss out of that other stuff on the radio. So cue it up and lose yourself in some simple country music goodness.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)