Music News & Reviews

Walter Tunis: Prolific band-mate Warren Byrom focuses on his own music

Warren Byrom , local musician , on Friday November 21, 2014  in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Warren Byrom , local musician , on Friday November 21, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

Warren Byrom and the Fabled Canelands

Opener: Slo-Fi. 10 p.m. Nov. 28 at Cosmic Charlie's 388 Woodland Ave. $6. (859) 309-9499.

You sense when speaking to Warren Byrom that there isn't an avenue of what we commonly view as roots music that doesn't excite him.

He happily discusses the wonders of Bob Dylan's newly released Basement Tapes Complete box set, appears genuinely humbled when recounting the opportunity of opening for Texas troubadour Joe Ely at Natasha's earlier this month and speaks with relish of the inspirations he took from famed New Orleans street performer Lissa Driscoll.

"I'm really interested in the ways these traditions get absorbed and deconstructed," the Chicago-born, Danville-reared, Lexington schooled Byrom says. "But really, my tastes have always been pretty random.

"My mom always had easy listening music on. My dad loved Louis Armstrong. I remember they also had this National Geographic collection, Songs of the Civil War. That was really my first exposure to roots music as far as songs that stretch back through generations. But I listen to every kind of music. There is so much out there that I'm constantly going through this cycle of being overwhelmed. I mean, I've just been turned on to Brian Eno's records. My main jam on the Legacy Trail when I take my bike out there is his Another Green World album."

That helps explain the roots music scope Byrom has long addressed with his music. For well over a decade, he has been a member of two stylistically different but highly visible Lexington roots music bands: the vintage swing, jazz and blues troupe The Swells and the salsa and son (a Cuban music style) spiced Big Maracas. More recently, he has also become active with the bluegrass/Americana outfit Small Batch.

Luckily, there has also been considerable focus on his own music with an ultra fine solo album of folk-blues, jazz-hued pop and more called The Fabled Canelands that finds a poetic meeting ground between The Band and Ryan Adams. Behind that have been shows backed by an expert pack of local all-stars that goes by the same name. One such date unfolds Friday at Cosmic Charlie's.

"I've been playing with The Swells and The Big Maracas for so many years and we've had so much fun," Byrom says. "I guess you could say we've had issues with our own songs. I wouldn't say we didn't have confidence in them. But it takes some pressure off if you're only mining the American history of songs and playing all that stuff. We would do originals but we never really recorded them. So eventually, I just started recording songs as I wrote more of them and started playing shows with those songs."

Byrom has been playing a number of new tunes in his sets of late and is nearing completion of a second solo record that he hopes to have out in 2015. But getting the proper vision, mood and sound for his new music hasn't exactly quickened the recording process.

"One of the things I've been trying to do lately is get out of my comfort zone," he says. "Songwriting, especially trying to get the songs to some version I'm happy with, has always been a pretty slow process. Maybe I'm a little too painstaking about it sometimes. I've always been super intimidated by the studio. I haven't figured out a way to totally block off that awareness of, 'Okay, this is being recorded.'"

That was hardly the case when Byrom recruited a host of Lexington music pals to cut a charity album of Christmas music, A Fabled Candied Yams Holiday Sampler, in 2012.

"Not only was that super fun and no pressure, but I got the idea to do it on, like, Dec. 7. We had that thing recorded and done by the 17th.

"Hey, maybe we can knock another one out real quick."