REVIEW: The John Byrne Band’s “A Shiver in the Sky” Bridges the Divide Between Here and Home


The John Byrne Band presents A Shiver in the Sky recorded and produced by Andy Keenan at Spice House Sound in Philadelphia. Upon the first notes Byrne’s Dublin roots are evident – not confining, but providing a solid foundation for the songs that follow. Byrne treads traditional trials and tribulations of the human experience: relationships, addiction, prejudice, leaving the past behind. “Things will happen to you, and they can be immensely painful, but they will pass. And if you don’t let them break you there will be a new version of yourself that emerges and has learned the skills to live with this pain,” he notes in regards to this collection of songs.

A Shiver in the Sky starts off with “Special Place in Hell,” a second cousin to Rico Bell’s best work. “There’s a special place in hell where we can be, hopelessly, in love,” Byrne sings over a churning drum beat and the interplay of horns and violin. “Hard Livin’ Lovers” deals with lingering emotions of those lost to the road or life’s realities. “Tony was a cowboy, the South Jersey kind, I got him a hat once in North Carolina, I’d leave him the bottle but he paid full price, all those hard living lovers are dropping like flies,” sings Byrne in a western leaning lament that evokes an open prairie waltz.

“Just Like You” finds Byrne leaning into Nick Lowe or Elvis Costello’s take on Americana where a hint of cowboy county meets easy rolling rockabilly meets New Orleans horns full of spunk and sass. Banjo, vocals, bass, and snare provide the bedrock for the contemplative folk ditty “Time Ain’t Changed A Thing in This Town.” “Time ain’t changed a thing in this town, the upside’s still up, the downside’s still way down,” Byrne carps before resigning to the state of the status quo, “You’re not feeding anybody, and there’s families to feed, but you’re getting my attention and my attention is all you really need.” “Easy to Get Stuck Here,” another album highlight, opens on a bevy of string, horns, and percussion before dissipating into silence only for Byrne’s vocal and guitar to emerge. Byrne sings, “our roots keep us strong, but sometimes they keep us where we don’t belong, and sometimes we break out in laughter and song at the thought of it all, and it’s easy to get stuck here,” as the band re-builds behind him. He finishes with reservations, unwilling give into irrelevance, “Another year comes to an effortless close, I don’t want these thoughts to stop troubling me I don’t want indifference no, it’s just easy to get stuck here, it’s hard to come home.”

On A Shiver in the Sky, The John Byrne Band bridges the divide between here and home, “the City of Brotherly Love” and “the Fair City,” with hints of musical roots from both sides of the Atlantic. A Shiver in the Sky builds and expands upon Byrne’s growing catalogue: After the Wake (2011), Celtic Folk (2013) and The Immigrant and the Orphan (2015); pick up a copy and join John Byrne on his musical voyages.


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