Accidents happen; sometimes the results are bad, sometimes good. For North Carolina country-folk songwriter Jonathan Byrd, one of the good kind resulted in this new album with people he barely knew. A Canadian tour date introduced Byrd to northern soul singers Alexa Dirks and Andrina Turenne of Chic Gamine, two years later he returned to a north of the border studio for a session including the pair plus a batch of Canadian session players including Corb Lund guitarist Grant Siemens, drummer Joanna Miller (Scott Nolan, Mary Gauthier) and other locals filling out the cast.
The result is a classic-sounding collection that doesn't so much highlight Byrd's songwriting as it couches it in a comfortable, rambling rock 'n' roll environment. The closest sonic equivalent may be the country-fried albums the Rolling Stones made after hanging out with Gram Parsons, with less drugs.
Byrd has always been a 'feel' kind of writer, with the mood he sets as important as the story being told; "Pale Rider" follows that track record with its spooky sound and slow-building scenes. Elsewhere he appears to be having a blast exploring just what this band of studio brothers and sisters can do - opening track "38 Baby" is a perfect example, with a Webb Wilder groove and girl-group background vocals from Dirks and Turenne.
Ironically, it's the title song that's most like Byrd's more acoustic singer-songwriter material, a gently nostalgic tune that still manages to put the girls to good use on some beautiful harmony singing.
There aren't many artists who can walk in to a studio and record with people they just met, to do so and come up with such a remarkably fun and listenable document of the proceedings is a credit to both Byrd and his one-time cohorts.