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Jonny Burke
Distance And Fortune
(self-released)
www.jonnyburke.com


To listen to Jonny Burke in more wistful, introspective moments on his debut album, Distance And Fortune, and then to look at this young guy in his 20s... It doesn't seem like enough time and experience could have crossed his path to leave us with that world-weary, knowing drawl and the insights of a wise old soul.

The album begins with a few straightforward rockers in the style of Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, and yes, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (one of his admitted influences). While his band can seriously jam (and these songs must sound great live in a crowded bar), things really start to get interesting when they bring it down for the quieter, more personal tales. This is when we get to the serious business of a thoughtful and compelling storyteller. It's at these times, accompanied by softly picked, heart-tugging acoustic guitar, when Burke shows glimmers of such luminaries as Dylan, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, and where he truly shines.

As a singer-songwriter originally from Austin, Texas, Jonny Burke's first band was The Dedringers, [formed] with a few friends in high school. He was already performing in Texas bars when he was 15. In his early 20s, he set out on his own, releasing his debut 5-song EP, The Long Haul, in 2009. For the past few years, it's been constant touring across the U.S. (most recently with James McMurtry), performing solo or with drummer Alejandro Adams and bassist Ronnie Johnson.

This full-length album debut is about his time on the road and in his songs of lost loves; who he left behind and what he came back home to. The album was produced by Marc Ford (Black Crowes, Ryan Bingham) at the Compound Studio in Southern California. As for the new album and its title, Burke says it's about "not playing it safe and practical, but allowing your future to be decided by forces of distance and fortune." In other words, leaving what happens to fate and where the road takes you.

His stories are about that life away from home, the hustlers and liars, crazy living and the need for redemption. Searching for a place to settle down and someone to be with. The eternal search for love and salvation. How time changes us, and those wistful longings and regrets. Burke channels Dylan in both tone and sentiment for "You Wear It So Well." He speaks of a long-time love's support via telephone while out on tour, and then the sad discovery upon his return that she's now with someone else. Simply stated and eloquently conveyed, he tells his story plainly and honestly, and connects with the listener in an intimate way. "Don't Let Me Fall" is a sad dirge about artists who give everything for their art, yet never receive recognition and die alone and forgotten. This could easily come across as clichéd and over the top, if it weren't so damn honest and pretty, mournfully sung and strummed. "And god knows I've tried to hold on to a feeling a song or a memory to keep in my heart I've asked forgiveness from those I've forsaken forgiveness don't come and it tears me part / So don't let me fall, 'cause I might not get up again / just hold me tighter, right now what I need's a friend / I've come too far for this to be the end / so don't let me fall 'cause I might not get up". "Quinceañera" is a festive Mexican-flavored melody, about the simple joys of life and appreciating and making the most of what you have ("The love that you're giving you can't be refusing. Take what you're living and put it to use some"). Following is the Soft Boys cover "Human Music", of the search for purpose and completion.

Burke's upbringing by his musician dad, listening to Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited and Townes Van Zandt's "Flying Shoes", is obvious throughout, and especially in the album closer, "Long Steady Decline" ("And this long, slow, steady decline, you show me yours and I'll show you mine, we'll leave brother death and take father time, in this long, steady decline.").

With such a strong first album, Jonny Burke is definitely worth watching to see where his road takes him. To say "he'll be touring to support the new album" is somewhat inaccurate, as he plans to stay out on the road to reach as many people as possible with his music. As he says, "To be up there on stage and having that communication going back and forth between a group of people - that's the best feeling for me."

-Julie Stoller

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