Jonny Burke is one H shy of sharing a name with the lyricist behind “Pennies from Heaven,” “Misty” and other Great American Songbook entries. But when it comes to what might someday be called the Great Americana Songbook, he won’t have to worry about ID mix-ups. Burke’s work is as distinctive as the landscape of the Texas Hill Country where he was raised.
It would be a mistake, however, to assume the geography of his upbringing automatically puts his music into college-country/red-dirt territory. His latest album, Along Alone Alright, on his own Dream Car Records label, stakes out turf in a wide-open space where artists freely mix folk and blues with a pinch of country twang, a dose of rock swagger and a whole lot of heart.
In 2016, he headed to Durham, North Carolina, to record Along Alone Alright, his third full-length album, with American Aquarium’s’s Ryan Johnson and Whit Wright, who co-produced.
Its 10 songs deliver food for thought about some weighty topics, such as aging, mortality and loss—including the death of dreams. With only three decades on the planet, it might seem early for Burke to delve into such subjects—despite his advanced field studies. But his applied learning actually started in his single-digit years, when he started to discover poets and pickers whose songs weren’t on most kids’ mixtapes.
“Chuck Berry’s songs spoke to me as a child and raised my consciousness to a greater level. As did Hank Williams’ songs. And John Prine’s,” Burke says. “I realized at a very young age that songs are a great medium for a story.”
He set his sights on writing his own, and has proven remarkably good at it. In the standout tune “World’s On Fire,” Burke guides the youthful hopes of a daydream boy and a calico girl toward a place where “Jack and Diane” meet “The River.” Over his gorgeous acoustic strumming, he sings, I fell asleep to the TV/I don’t see much reality/Rich girls talkin’ all ’bout themselves/You work at Walmart stocking shelves/Ain’t got two dimes to rub together/We used to say this ain’t forever.