Published Jan 30, 2020For his debut album for John Prine's Oh Boy label, Sacramento-based folk raconteur Tré Burt is in a unique position. Having released a few iPhone recordings from his old basement apartment in Australia in 2017, then thrown his self-released record Caught It From the Rye online for a handful of dedicated listeners, Burt is now officially releasing this album on the label owned by one of his "top three artists of all time."
He is also suddenly performing with adored indie acts like Haley Heynderickx and Helado Negro; he'll even be warming up audiences for Prine onstage later this year. That kind of meteoric rise puts a great deal of pressure on this release; it's can't be merely a collection of lo-fi wailing folk songs, but a mission statement for the artist taking the torch from scratchy-voiced, soothsaying folk legends like Prine.
The result is a fine collection of thoughtful pieces that will satisfy any Woody Guthrie or Dave Van Ronk nostalgic, but might leave listeners longing for some fresher elements. Caught It From the Rye takes diligent notes from The Freewheelin'-era Bob Dylan, both in its off-the-cuff songwriting and its bare-bones, gritty production. Even Burt's vocal delivery is Dylan-esque — there is simply no clearer musical comparison, especially once the piercing harmonica enters on "Undead God of War."
The few moments of sonic play across the record are what make the album most intriguing, such as the more fleshed-out arrangements on the bouncy "Real You" and the swampy bass at the end of "Moth's Crossing." The standout "Franklin's Tunnel" sees Burt joined by Sacramento-based songwriter Sea of Bees for playful harmonies.
Lyrically, it is easy to praise Burt's ability to capture cutting emotion in few words. On the title track, for instance, he sings of "pickin' up the daisies, a child left behind / as I put 'em by a tombstone/ pretendin' it was mine." The album is rife with deeply felt poetic abstractions interlaced with potent images. When Burt delivers an affecting aphorism — such as "it just don't feel right, to feel right, when nothing but sorrow remains" — it sounds like a world-weary voice pouring through an ancient radio. It hits hard.
Ultimately, Tré Burt's Caught It From The Rye is an impressive set of heartfelt songs that make no bones about continuing a well-established folk lineage. Burt is clearly student of this tradition, and his debut is a worthwhile contribution to it. (Oh Boy)