Trad favourite Matthew Byrne celebrates the release of his stirring new studio album Horizon Lines, as well as a coinciding cross-Canada tour
Matthew Byrne is a rare talent amongst a province full to bursting with talented folk. A singing voice that would make a nun blush, compounded with a knack for songwriting and a damn fine attitude to boot, and Byrne is a joy in just about any capacity.
August 11th saw the release of Byrne’s latest studio effort Horizon Lines, a compilation of lesser known trad offerings and even some home-spun originals.
In a candid sitdown at The Herald, Byrne takes readers inside the heart of an album that comes from a musician with a penchant for consuming and acquiring songs in bulk. “The songs, I’m always on the look out for songs. I got that in my blood.,” Byrne explains with a smile. “I’m always song-finding and looking for something that deserves to be re-imagined and represented to the public. I’ll do a lesser known repertoire of traditional songs, but I think they are songs that are worth getting out there again. In my day-to-day life I think my natural tendency is to accumulate songs and after awhile I look at ones that I’ll add to my show, that I’ve come to love or come across and in this case I’d realize there’s an albums worth of stuff there that I’d like to bring into the studio and 10-12 that I’d like to put into a package of my own way of doing it. It’s a happenstance way of finding songs.”
While the bulk of Horizon Lines consists of trad tunes which Byrne has resurrected with his own patented style, there are several original compositions that will soon become favourites amongst an already rich repertoire. “It’s primarily traditional stuff now that I do, that’s my love,” Byrne shares. “As time goes on I’m writing more stuff and obviously the traditional songs involve a lot of writing as well, the arrangements and music that surrounds them and the tunes. I’ll create melodies myself where one doesn’t already exist if I need to.”
Adelaide: A True Story
Among the new material is the larger-than-life made-for-television ballad Adelaide, a song that Byrne concocted from a true story passed down to him from his father. The story concerns a meeting between a WWII based solider and his chance meeting and fleeting romance with a woman who would turn out to be Matthew’s aunt Adelaide, who passed away from Tuberculous in 1949.
The man in question, Mr. Douglas Black, posted an open letter in 1990 which came to the attention of Matthew’s father Joe. The two would open a correspondence and exchange stories, but it’s best to hear the song yourselves for justice to the tale.
“That had to be written,” says Byrne of the larger-than-life story turned song. “I had a very cursory understanding of it, but then in the last year or so it was brought to my attention again and I said man that would be something to write a song about, a modern day traditional song. I got all the letters and correspondents between Dad and the man from 1992 and based it all on that. It’s nice because it’s all true – I didn’t have to embellish it or fill in any gaps, it was all there. It was pretty wild I must say.”
As for any overarching themes of Horizon Lines, Byrne sought a deeper intertwined message between his chosen song-list. He found several threads tying the eleven tracks together.
“I was looking at the sweeping themes that kind of went through the record and there were a lot of songs about going off into the world,” he said. “There’s a lot of songs about the unknown, being away from home or longing for something out there. There’s a lot of that big idea that kind of flows throughout the songs and I wanted a title that captures that unknown foreverness of distance.”
Local Guest Talent
Of course, being a worldly, well-travelled and likable chap, Byrne has compiled a who’s who of guest musicians, many of them stalwarts of our local trad scene including Teresa Ennis, Billy Sutton, Craig Young, Aaron Collis, Emelia Bartellas, and father Joe Byrne, among countless others.
“They’re great players and I’m lucky enough that they’re all my friends,” Byrne shared. “That’s the wonderful thing about it, not just hiring musicians but there are a lot of people who know your career and what you’re doing. Someone like Craig Young, who I’ll call up and say I’d love to have some dobro (guitar) on the record and then his response is he’s honoured to do it, well I’m honoured to have ya! It’s a great community of traditional players that I was able to draw on.”
Byrne is in the midst of on an extensive cross-Canada tour – which kicked off in British Columbia and will end with three dates in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The island portion of the Horizon Lines Tour kicks off October 25 at the Rotary Arts Centre in Corner Brook, moving into the Citadel House in Lewisporte on October 26, before concluding with the intimate George Street United Church performance on October 28th, capping off the near six week trek.
‘Horizon Lines’ is available now. For ticket information visit matthewbyrne.net