Saturday, July 13, 2013

Byzantium - EP


I've been playing guitar for over 45 years.  I started out playing popular folk music.  Songs by Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Judy Collins were among the first guitar pieces I mastered. But, like Dylan, I ultimately moved on to more sophisticated, difficult, and raucous music. Yet, I never lost my affinity for well-written and performed acoustic folk music.

By the early 1970's folk music faded into the background and really did not surface again as mass audience popular music until the new millennia.  When it did regain popularity the indie folk scene was not limited to the United States. In fact, some of the best folk acts came from the United Kingdom, such as Mumford & Sons and Noah and The Whale.  

Byzantium (no relation to the 1970’s band of the same name) is a synthesis of the new and old folk.  Ben Leyland, a Brit who moved to Los Angeles, hooked up with Taylor Kinney, a pianist, and the two of them started to write indie folk music.  They pulled together like-minded musicians who played bass, mandolin, lead guitar, banjo and percussion and formed the band Byzantium, which is named after two poems written by W.B. Yeats. 

The group recently released a self-titled six track debut EP filled with well-written modern indie rock tunes.  The first, "Know You Well,"  has that great Mumford & Sons type approach to folk.  The song "Doin' Fine" is to Byzantium as "The Boxer" is to "Simon and Garfunkel."  Similarities include a "la la la" interlude and rocking beat acoustic guitar.  With "Into The Fire" the band offers a country folk melancholy feel track.  For some reason it suggested to me a male Colbie Caillat. With "Criminals and Lovers" Byzantium provides a twisted story of passion and lawlessness.  The tune "Party For The 21st Century" is the most experimental track on the EP and is imbued with heavy piano.  It is the least folk-like song.  It has more of a Bruce Hornsby feel.  However, in the finest tradition of folk music, it is a top notch protest song against the greed of the bankers and politicians who orchestrated "The Great Recession."  The EP ends with "Plans." It is a lilting reflection on life. The melody is reminiscent of an Irish drinking song but progresses into an full blown folk rock anthem:

. . .

Checked the monsters under my bed,

Smoked a bowl to clear my head,

I'm alone but I won't have it any other way.

. . . .

It may be almost 45 years since I sat down and played folk music on the guitar. However, after listening to Byzantium's self-titled EP, I couldn't help but think that it was time to revisit folk music, not just for the protest content, but now for the new, sophisticated instrumental approach to the genre.  It is different now, maybe even better.  As Dylan wrote,

The line it is drawn,

The curse it is cast,

The slow one now

Will later be fast,

As the present now

Will later be past,

The order is

Rapidly fadin'

And the first one now

Will later be last,

For the times they are a-changin'.

- Old School

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