CD Review of Featurette by Geoff Byrd

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starstarstarstarno star Label: Self-Released
Released: 2007

Geoff Byrd is not a man who’s willing to sell his soul to become a platinum-selling singer/songwriter; for that matter, he’s not even going out of his way to seek out a major-label deal.

Some would say that those two particular paths meet more often than not, and if Byrd was more desperate and short-sighted, it’s likely that that would be the case. A lesser man would probably settle for an iffy major-label contract in order to get major-label distribution, then play umpteen gigs to promote the album, only to be dropped because some corporate bigwig doesn’t think he sounds enough like Justin Timberlake to make it worth spending the money on advertising him. Byrd, however, has spent the last several years building a name for himself – getting a major buzz going, selling thousands of copies of his CDs at his live shows and via the Internet, and inspiring coverage in Billboard and Radio & Records as well as on CNN and CNET – and he knows quite well that there are label deals to be had whenever he wants one…if he ever wants one.

Right now, however, it’s pretty clear that he definitely doesn’t want one. Byrd’s left his manager, left his label, and has decided to release his new album, Featurette, exclusively through his website. There’s indie, and then there’s really, really indie, but when you’re making an offer to personally autograph every single CD? Dude, that’s pretty damned indie.

Byrd’s last record – 2005’s Shrinking Violets – was produced by Steve Sundholm (a collaboration which led Byrd to appear on Jim Brickman’s 2006 album, Escape), but Featurette is a self-produced affair. In fact, everything was in Byrd’s hands this time around; in addition to handling production duties himself, he also recorded and mixed the disc, played all the instruments, and wrote all the songs, and the inevitable result is an album that feels just as personal as you’d expect it would. Byrd seems to realize, however, that you can be personal without falling into a pit of despair in the process.

Mind you, the lyrics are a little obscure at times – after several listens to the title track, which opens the album, I’m still not entirely sure what Byrd’s on about – but the music is a mix of jaunty pop (“Provocateur”), romantic ballads (“For Whatever It’s Worth”), and even a two-minute foray into country rock (“The Ballad of Patch Walker”). There’s even a gospel-styled choir on “Insignificant Others.” With the song “Summer,” Byrd begins with a few seconds of perfectly Wilson-esque harmonies; they recur briefly later in the track, but Byrd knows that a little Beach Boys tribute goes a long way, never allowing them to overwhelm; same deal with the Queen-like backing vocals that occur on “Terra Firma.” The album closer, “Under the Sun,” might be a little pretentious, given that it opens with a spoken-word proclamation, ends with a vaguely-Medieval-sounding choir, and has a JFK soundbite somewhere in the middle, but, damn, anyone who attempts put together a rock opera in under four minutes deserves some kind of praise, if only for trying something different.

As with Shrinking Violets, Geoff Byrd hasn’t gone into Featurette with an eye toward commercial success; he’s just out to make the music that he wants to make. It’s a mindset that the major labels will never accept, of course, but at the rate Byrd’s fan base is growing and the number of albums he’s selling, he’s probably giving less and less of a flying flip what they think, anyway.

~Will Harris