Ricky Byrd Gives Us T-shirt and Jeans Rock and Roll on ‘Sobering Times’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Ricky Byrd, who has played guitar with everyone from Joan Jett and Roger Daltrey to Paul McCartney and Ian Hunter, has been sober for more than 30 years now, but on his latest LP (titled appropriately enough Sobering Times), he’s clearly still spreading the message of recovery to anyone who will listen. 

The record, a follow up from 2017’s Clean Getaway, is exactly what you’d expect from someone who’s played guitar on some of the cornerstones of modern American rock music (“Bad Reputation,” “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll”): it’s solid rock music free of any pre-fixes and suffixes, just t-shirt and jeans music. All spread across a dozen tracks, many circling back to the theme of living a sober life. His backing band on these tracks is a who’s who of classic rock: Liberty DeVitto (Billy Joel) and Steve Holley (Wings, Ian Hunter) taking turn on drums; Jeff Kazee (Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes) on keyboards and Bob Stander on bass. Surprisingly, for a guy who spent a bulk of his career playing guitar just outside of the spotlight, he has the perfect voice for gritty rock.    

From the opening track, “Quittin’ Time (Again),” and throughout most of the other tracks here (“I Came Back Stronger,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Ain’t Gonna Live Like That,” “Pour Me,” “Recover Me” and more) confessions of blackouts, fuzzy memory and regrets thanks to booze dominate the record. And all are with the same variation of the mantra it’s hard but worth it. It does get a bit redundant at times and occasional come off as preachy. But the fact that Byrd can write relatable lyrics and manages to pair them with some scorching riffs and more than a few addictive hooks, makes the message go down pretty easy. In particular, “Recover Me,” with Willie Nile duetting, is one of the best Springsteen songs Springsteen never wrote.

The album not coincidentally comes out on the 33rd anniversary of Byrd’s first day sober. In the years since, along with forging a solo career and continuing to play and tour with some of the greats, he became a recovery coach and serves as a drug and alcohol counselor.     

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