Jeff Talmadge: Mature and Steady

Jeff Talmadge

Kind of Everything

Berkalin Records 10008

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Austin-based singer/songwriter Jeff Talmadge is settling into that comfortable groove that comes with maturity and attention to detail. His six previous albums attracted notice from folks like Lloyd Maines, Tim O’Brien, and Thomm Jutz (who produced luminaries such as Nanci Griffith and John Prine). You build up clientele like that and they show up on new projects such as Kind of Everything. It’s true to its title. You get the giddy gee-whiz wonderment of “One Spectacular Moon,” the bluegrass-influenced “Molly,” the desperate edges of the title track and “It’ll Sure Be Cold Tonight,” and a passel of love songs (though not always from the perspective you might expect). If you like mixed themes, Kind of Everything has one song that evokes summer and another that’s set at Christmas. For me, though, I most admired Talmadge’s ability to communicate simply. The man is a prize-winning poet, but don’t expect arcane metaphors and oblique references to long-forgotten myths. On “Mississippi Moon,” for example, he doesn’t mystify the fading memory of a long ago lover; he just sings, “I wish I had a picture of her smile.” Put a touch of grit in the voice, set it to modified waltz time, and what more do you need to know? Another nice touch is “Step by Step (As Long As),” one of those rare folk songs--a testament to enduring love. Talmadge has some miles on his voice, but it’s holding steady--just like his pen.


Jonathan Byrd Cackalack



Waterburg 92

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Have no idea what “Cackalack” means? Neither did I until I got the latest release from Jonathan Byrd, a seventh-generation North Carolinian. It seems that “Cackalacky” is colorful regional slang for his home state, which would make him the eponymous Cackalack. It’s fine record as well as a linguistics lesson, a mix of Country and bluegrass-tinged folk music that reminded me of young John Prine. Remember the old Prine standard “Yes, I Guess They Oughta Name a Drink After You?” Bryd’s equivalent is “Reckon I Do,” a return to Bad Boy Country, where there were delightful dollops of corniness. (That’s all smoothed over by studio slickness these days!) And we get some of those delicious hill folks heavy-handed metaphors, such as a prescription of “Chicken Wire” to keep straying “hens” from venturing too far from the “coop.” (Get it?) And Bryd goes positively Prine with “Dungarees Overalls,” a half-loving, half-skewering look at redneck culture.

Don’t get me wrong; Bryd is no carbon copy of John Prine and he doesn’t seek to be. We’re talking about the spirit and vibe of the music here. There are flashes of sentimentality (“Father’s Day”), a lovely song of longing (“Scuppersong”), and no less than two songs built upon oak tree metaphors. It’s all as unpretentious as Byrd claims life is in his section of old Cackalacky.