In the song “Small Town Dream,” Eugene musician Ky Burt sings, “Trying to build us a home where most people drive through/ Small town dream.”
Burt’s originally from Indiana, and he comes to Eugene via Tucson and Portland.
Although Eugene’s not exactly a small town, after listening to those lines from Burt’s brand-new release The Sky In Between, I wondered whether Burt came to town searching for that simpler life he’s singing about.
“I wrote that song in Eugene,” he says over the phone. He’s back in Tucson, where he recently played a bluegrass festival. The song comes from before Burt lived in Eugene officially, and he wrote it while staying at a friend’s house in the Friendly neighborhood.
“I woke up one morning, that song evolved,” he says. “I like the city and I like the culture that comes from the city. There’s a place for that.”
But what Burt appreciates about smaller cities is the sense of community.
“You have to interact, you have to engage,” he says, adding that, in small towns, such a lifestyle “might be easier to model.”
The Sky In Between, Burt’s first full-length release, was produced and recorded at Eugene musician and producer Tyler Fortier’s home studio. It’s a collection of feathery-soft and heartbreaky acoustic ballads, with slide guitar and waxy fiddle adding tones of country music. Banjo serves less as a plucked vehicle for energy and dance, as the instrument is often used, but instead acts like a strummed vessel for slate-gray melancholy.
Burt’s been playing music since he was a kid, but he didn’t discover roots and Americana music until he went to college in Virginia. From bluegrass to old-time music, Burt considers it all a part of our American heritage.
“When I think about being in this particular country,” he says, “for me, it’s the music. It speaks so many words about our cultural heritage.”
Burt’s generation has been forced to move around a lot, he says. “There’s a lot to take into consideration in the world right now.” He’s looking for ways to reconnect with the world, both through his songwriting and through nature. Burt tries to honor some of the older folk sounds in his songs, but also to bring in a more contemporary voice and melodic sensibility.
He uses modern touches like in the song “Midwestern Sky,” with the kind of expressive vocal “woe-oh-oh” so common in contemporary indie-folk, and which at this point has been co-opted in a lot of sentimental cell-phone ads. It’s also, I’m fairly certain, the exact same sound millennials make when they discover an Etsy page they find particularly inspiring.
So maybe you’ve heard music like this before, but with Burt, you don’t mind hearing it again, due in no small part to his enthralling, everyman vocal work and songwriting. His songs are a little sad, but his head is always held up high — and yours will be, too.
Ky Burt with Muddy Souls
Friday, April 5 • 8pm
Wildcraft Cider Works
$8 adv., $10 door