From his humble beginnings writing songs and occasionally busking to catching the ear of his hero John Prine and signing to Prine’s Oh Boy Records, Tré Burt has carved out an increasingly large space in the folk-Americana scene with his thoughtful lyrical tales and simple acoustic style. His talent as a songwriter can be heard on his impressive sophomore album You, Yeah, You (REVIEW), and on Thursday, September 2nd, Burt brought songs from that album and others to the charming Topaz Farm on Sauvie Island just outside Portland, Oregon.
With the setting sun dipping behind the horizon and the last warmth of summer being replaced by a cool night, Burt took the stage surrounded by hay bales underneath a towering 500-year-old oak tree. As if there were any lingering questions about his love for John Prine, Burt opened his set with a poignant take on “The Late John Garfield Blues,” adding his soulful rasp to Prine’s own laid-back delivery. Burt would intertwine his own life experiences with his lyrics, like on “Franklin’s Tunnel” about one of his favorite escapes, and the rambling and reflective “Caught It From The Rye,” both from his debut album. In between songs, Burt quipped dryly with darkly humorous anecdotes.
It wasn’t long before he got into his new songs, kicking off with the “Funny Story (song for Eva),” a song that balances basic guitar strumming and Bob Dylan-esque vocal delivery. “Solo” was soft, intimate and mournful, and would be followed by “Under the Devil’s Knee,” a standalone single that presents the tragic story of African-Americans dying at the hands of police in a style that fused Woody Guthrie’s classic protest songs with blues. The character of the devil would appear in several songs throughout the evening, as Burt didn’t shy away from life’s darker moments even if he was looking at them with a comical, often cynical eye. “Me Oh My” found Burt busting out his harmonica for a lively country-blues, and he returned back to his first album for “Moth’s Crossing,” showcasing some of the prettiest acoustic guitar playing of the night. Other highlights of the set included the mournful waltz “I Cannot Care” and “Sweet Misery,” the latter of which brought to mind the guitar playing on Nico’s “These Days” and was elevated with Burt’s harmonica playing.
One of the final songs Burt played of the night was the standout “By the Jasmine,” one of his most Prine-like songs with its strange and humble characters. This would bring the set full circle with Burt leaving no question about his greatest influence as a songwriter. Throughout the performance, he also made it clear that he is forging his own path as one of the more exciting and creative voices in the folk-Americana scene. By the time it was all over, Burt had won over the sold-out crowd and left many speculating about how great he would sound backed by a full band.