Jonny Burke has a new album out in the world, Behind the Pine Curtain (Dream Car Records). The album was produced, engineered, and mixed by Don Cento at CenTone Studios in Austin. Musicians on the album are Jonny Burke on vocals and guitars; Scott Davis on guitar, dobro, mandolin, and accordion; Will Dupuy on upright bass; Josh Bleu on drums and percussion; and Cody Braun on fiddle. Alejandro Escovedo is featured on the album as well.
This album is songs all about being in prison — or as Burke says on Twitter: “It’s about prison and stuff.” It’s a complete package, including relaying some of the events leading up to landing in prison, some things that happen after release and some of the effects on others in your life. Jonny actually spent some time in Huntsville prison, so the material is bluntly real and authentic. Just that fact alone makes this a stand out, but the complex storytelling style and the folksy music arrangements put this record over the top. Burke’s songwriting is edgy yet absolutely sincere, and with the intangibly boyish quality in his vocal tones the combination is fresh, captivating and unique.
The title lead track opens with lead fiddle, and a confusion upon waking up –“I guess I might have stole some stuff from my old grandma Bea,” and we quickly realize the lyrical protagonist is behind bars — “six months in county, and six years in prison.” The rhythm is like an old fashioned barn dance, and we’re off to cringe as we imagine one of the worst ways to be forced to spend time.
“High Katie” is a song about missing his Katie — he’s still in prison — and Burke’s vocals seem to especially deliver a dose of vulnerability.
“I Cut Off My Ankle Monitor to Be Here” is next and you envision trying to get by in life with that on your body. “Pipe Bomb Dream” reminds you of the risks of crashing and burning, and trying to outrun the law. “You break enough laws and you’ll get caught … Roll the dice, just one more turn, too heavy on the pedal and you crash and burn.” There are great guitar melodies with accordion on this one and a shuffle beat.
“Home For Thanksgiving” is the centerpiece of the album and addresses the painful judgements that holiday gatherings wring, and the struggle of the child of someone who’s been in prison.
As previously mentioned, Burke has an honest youthful vocal tone, so the duet with Alejandro Escovedo on guest lead vocals on “I Fought the Law” (Sonny Curtis) is really rich and glorious. This song is the heart of the album in terms of listening to the voices tell the story, even if it is a cover. Escovedo’s vocals contain layers of beauty that entwine with Burke’s in a way that makes you hit replay, and hit it, and hit it.
The whole album is one of the ones that step forward and stick with you.