Songwriters don’t exist in a vacuum. They learn their craft by listening to other songwriters, assessing what works and what doesn’t, what fits and what doesn’t, what inspires and what doesn’t. Almost all of today’s generation of artists run their roots through a handful of heroes: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Townes Van Zandt, and John Prine, then on back further in time from there. The beauty of that in-between group, though, is that all but one of them are still alive and, therefore, at least somewhat accessible.
For Sacramento-based singer/songwriter Tré Burt, the idea of ever even meeting John Prine might’ve have seemed like an impossible dream. But, after Burt self-released Caught It from the Rye in 2018, Prine’s label, Oh Boy Records, caught ear of it and, after seeing him perform at AmericanaFest in 2019, brought him onto the label alongside Kelsey Waldon — their only two signings in the past 15 years. Now, Oh Boy is re-issuing Caught It from the Rye and Burt is opening shows for Prine. Turns out, the dream is not impossible.
The record, itself, feels like it owes more to Dylan — particularly when it comes to cadence — and Van Zandt with maybe even some Nick Drake and others mixed in for good measure. Any which way you hear it, the set wouldn’t have felt out of place in that time, what with its sparse, lo-fi production and thoughtful, three-minute tracks.
The first two cuts, “What Good” and “Caught It from the Rye,” take on some big questions, to which Burt allows that there may well be answers to be found… or not. And that’s okay. With little more than his acoustic guitar for support, he works his way through the existential mine fields we all traverse. On the title track, he comes to a pretty basic conclusion that we’d all do better to understand: “Lively live a lot, then die beyond and rot. Where have you been? Just pondering a thought. If nothin’s everlasting, and everything is lost, then everyone around me is all I ever got.”
As the album rolls along, Burt earns his folk troubadour stripes by taking on the racism of our “justice” system in “Undead God of War,” the sadness of history repeating itself in “Only Sorrow Remains,” and the letting go of love in “Moth’s Crossing,” among other deeply felt and fully universal topics. One listen through and it’s easy to hear what Oh Boy heard… a songwriter holding fast to his heroes while crafting his own vision of the world around him.