Jason Tyler Burton: Kentuckian
Jason Tyler Burton is set to release his fourth album, Kentuckian, on September 6th, 2019. The album features nine original songs and a cover, “Kentucky,” written by Keith Anderson from Burton’s old band, The Union City All-Stars. Burton brings his normal sound of folk and Americana music to the album, but also combines elements of country and bluegrass. The album features guest appearances from Rachel Baiman, Robby Hecht, Ben Plotnick, Michelle Humber, Aaron Davis, Kamry Thelin, and Kaitlyn Raitz. Ryan Tilby, who provided mixing duties, is also all over the record, adding banjo, mandolin, bass, steel guitar, and dobro. Drums from Ryan Ptasnik, keys by John Houston, and bass from Terry Hill. Kentuckian is an album of rural songs, written for rural people, but also for those who want to understand their struggles.
Burton was not born in Kentucky. But, his father spent his childhood in Harlan County and moved north, to find work. Burton was born in Michigan, but Kentucky was home, and they moved back soon after. In the Appalachian foothills, he grew up learning to play the fiddle, guitar, and mandolin. Early adulthood would bring a change and a big move for Burton. He packed up his belongings and now lives in the least populated county in the least populated state. Wyoming, at the base of the Wind River Range.
The title of the album, Kentuckian, has a personal and important meaning to Jason Tyler Burton. Although not born in the bluegrass state, with his family heritage and upbringing, he considers it to be his home. Burton says that, “Despite having lived out west for the better part of ten years now, I still tell folks I’m from Kentucky. But it’s more than that. I have always loved the Kentucky motto of ‘united we stand, divided we fall,’ and it seems we are growing more and more divided as a people all over the country, full of hate and vitriol.” In what has become a political environment in the United States, this album is not necessarily political. It is meant to bring up the conversation about a broken system, a broken people. Burton goes on to say, “I wanted to make sense of that using my home state of Kentucky as the setting. People are broken. They don’t know how to fix their own problems, but still have this odd hope that by casting a vote a certain way, maybe somebody is going to fix their problems for them.” Political division is widespread across the nation. Friends, family, coworkers all divided on key issues and the politicians that make those decisions. “My folks voted for Trump and I didn’t. I wanted to make sense of that from a place of empathy, which is admittedly easier when you're dealing with your parents. But then I wanted to extend that to the rural people who by and large elected him. This isn't an anti-Trump record by any stretch, but maybe a reaction to him. It is an exercise in trying to understand the nuance of our situations, not to vilify or glorify a way of life, but to dig in.” Burton’s song, “High Road to Harlan,” has effectively delivered that message.
“Hillbilly’s Lament” is another tune on the record that mixes both political and social life in rural Kentucky together. The tune musically, encompasses traditional folk with a modern flare. It is a sad story about life in small town Kentucky where the primary source of work has shut down. “Down the road in the little town of Ford was the Dale Power Station, a coal fired power plant. I rode the bus past it as a kid on the regular and would go walk across the railroad bridge to fish the creek on the other side of the river. Ford was poor as dirt. The kids came to school smelling bad with filthy clothes. Their yards were full of discarded junk, and there was a helplessness in their sunken eyes. That station is now shut down, scheduled for demolition, and the town is out of its primary source of work.” The organ and lap steel can be heard in the background throughout, used brilliantly as an accent to set the tone of the music and to make the voice of the song dominant. A real-life folk song about the state of rural America.
“Easy For Me” is another outstanding story on this record that is inspired by a blue-collar coworker of Burton’s in Winchester, Kentucky. The tune is a more upbeat, folk/Americana song dominated by the sweet sound of the fiddle throughout. The song is about how life isn’t easy for some folks who can’t win for losing. Burton says that, “I didn’t want to write him as a country music caricature though, because he was a human being, and his life and circumstances are far more complicated than clichés written by Nashville songwriting houses.” It’s another powerful song that shows Burton’s strong ability to tell a story through song, both lyrically and musically. “This guy would get his paycheck on Friday, say with glee, "Let's go to the bank," and we'd drive the company van through the drive-up liquor window. He'd sign his check, hand it to the cashier and ask for "a bottle of 5-year-old cold." They'd give him a bottle of Jim Beam and the change from his pay check, which he'd then spend on his Rent-A-Center TV and his week to week efficiency apartment.”
Kentuckian by Jason Tyler Burton is a solid production from the first note to the last. The music paired with the storytelling is nothing short of an artistic masterpiece. Each and every song on the record is a display of power through music. “High Road to Harlan” has over three hundred thousand views on social media. “A New Colossus,” “Hillbilly’s Lament,” “Easy For Me,” “Date Night at the Dairy Queen,” and “High Road to Harlan” all provide the listeners with both heavy thinking and serious topics of discussion about a modern, rural society. A folk album that is very much in line with the messages of our folk heroes from the past, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie.
Get the new album Kentuckian:
Cover Photo Courtesy of Gretchen Yost Photography:
Photo Courtesy of Erica Chambers:
Album Art Courtesy of Anna Brones: