By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
As French folk singer Yann Tiersen and his band run through a sound check a few hours before headlining the Granada Theater last Thursday night, Doug Burr, one of Tiersen's two local openers, sits out in the theater, Tiersen's band's tweaks and spurts of play loudly reverberating throughout the room.
Burr's placement on this bill was essentially a last-minute add, only fully confirmed earlier this morning. But, just 12 days from the release of his fourth full-length on May 4, Burr doesn't mind such circumstances.
He'll take what he can get, he says. Especially these days.
"My job quit me," the Denton-based performer says, plenty of self-deprecation evident as he describes being let go from his nine-to-five gig in human resources and payroll services at a downtown Dallas office. It's a side of Burr fans rarely see, but one befitting of his normal persona. Onstage, he is forever serious, allowing his music and lyrics to carry any emotional weight; offstage, his subtle, dark humor replaces the music but still charms just the same.
So, sure, maybe the loss of his day job is a bit of a blow. But Burr, in this moment at least, is choosing to look at its perfect timing. For the first time since releasing his solo debut The Sickle & The Sheaves in 2003, the adored local folk artist, who has scored some minor recognition outside of the region thanks to mentions in Paste magazine and opening slots on tours with Son Volt and others, is now committing himself to music full-time.
A day job would just complicate things.
"Everything's bigger now," Burr says, reflecting on his music career. "There's more going on. There's more interest. Things are going well enough where I'm beginning to try and balance this thing as a full-time job. In a perfect world, that's what this new record will bring."
He pauses, and corrects himself: "Actually, in a perfect world, this would have happened 10 years ago. But I feel like it could happen this time."
With his new release, O Ye Devastator, Burr believes he has a record that can earn both a bigger audience and more support from those already counted among his fans. Since just after the release of his 2007 breakthrough, On Promenade, a gorgeous, deliberately paced folk effort centered on trains and slow Southern living, Burr has prepared this new album with the aim of becoming a full-time musician in mind. And he's not just shooting pigs out of the sky: Anyone who has ever heard his heartbreakingly gripping brand of folk knows the power his music can hold. His voice cuts through to the bone, serving as the centerpiece in a carefully crafted painting of a slower, more introspective time and place. On Promenade's brilliance came in its near-perfect capturing of this aesthetic. So it makes sense that in preparing O Ye Devastator, Burr didn't change his approach. His roster of backing players is the same. The studio and producer used to record the disc are unchanged.
"I feel like it's pretty safe to say that this is an extension of On Promenade," Burr says. "It's not supposed to be a sequel or anything, but at the same time it's not a sweeping left turn. We didn't try to do a different sound. We just tried to do the same things better."
Crafting a better On Promenade, however, is no small order. To its credit, O Ye Devastator doesn't really try to be much more than its predecessor. Burr's description of the disc as an extension of his previous work is fitting: Although perhaps less cohesive an album than that earlier release, O Ye Devastator impressively stands as no less compelling an effort. In fact, at times the album shows hints of being a greater accomplishment: Lead-off track "A Black Wave Is Coming" sets the table well for the album's dark, ominous feel. "At The Public Dance," meanwhile, is as honest a love story as Burr's ever penned. Other songs, like "Red, Red," "And When We Awoke" and "Topeka" stand out as classic Burr tracks, songs so familiar you can't believe you've never heard them before.
"I don't think anyone can dismiss this record," Burr says confidently. It's tough to argue with him. It's a fine release, one well deserving of Burr's byline. "It's a fair, really honest representation of me," he continues. "And it is what it is. If it's not the next big blog sensation, then I'm sorry. This is all I could do."
Burr thinks about these things. His folksy, rootsy, Americana-based genre isn't exactly what the blogosphere finds hip these days. But no matter: Burr's efforts rise above such petty taste-making. His work is classic, timeless.
His concerns are understandable, though. Burr wants more—from this record, from himself. Maybe because he's anxious. Maybe because he recently lost his job. But mostly, he says, because writing a record that allows him to tour and make a career out of music is what he's always wanted. Local heroism be damned.
"I feel like I have to do this," he says of finding a bigger audience. "And I have to do it for my own sake. Because I'm going crazy."