Sacramento songwriter Tré Burt is one of a talented group of musicians today who uses his personal experiences and perspective to reconnect folk music with its African American and protests roots. In the process, he also goes into territory that’s sometimes unexpected. Like his affinity for country and folk singer-songwriter John Prine.
“Like his late label mate and songwriting hero John Prine, Burt showcases his poet’s eye for detail, surgeon’s sense of narrative precision and his songwriters’ ability to transpose observation into affecting verse. You, Yeah, You is a cohesive body of work that illustrates the ever expanding space in which Tré Burt’s voice belongs.”
For this edition of Saturday Soundtrack, we’ll explore the music of Tré Burt, who records on Prine’s Oh Boy Records label. Like his hero who famously came to songwriting after delivering the mail in Chicago, he comes from a working-class background, in Burt’s case as a maintenance technician servicing airplanes at SFO International Airport and taping boxes as a UPS worker. One of the more direct associations with Prine’s legacy is Dixie Red from Burt’s most recent album. Burt describes the connection this way.
“I prayed under an old oak tree in my neighborhood a lot for John Prine and his family while he was in the hospital last year. In the days following his passing I was mostly silent and listened to The Tree of Forgiveness non-stop. One night, I was standing on my porch looking at the full moon through a break in the trees over my street. It was especially silver and awfully large. The moon looked as if it were signaling John’s safe arrival to the other side. I felt privileged to witness this message sent for his family. ‘Dixie Red’ is a southern-grown peach and that line from ‘Spanish Pipedream’ has always been so potent to me. So I used a peach as imagery to represent John’s body of work he left behind for all of us.”
“Boundless in the evergreen waters / Gently down the stream / Green River knows you as its father” is a nod to Prine’s “Paradise” and his final resting place in the Green River in Kentucky’s Muhlenberg County. It’s a fittingly reverential ode to the immensity of Prine’s songwriting and legacy.
Tré Burt wrote his protest anthem, Under the Devil’s Knee, in 2020, in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner and the unending police violence across the country. It features other African American singers from the new folk tradition: Allison Russell, Sunny War and Leyla McCalla.
“He came back after 2 years / lookin for a job but got wrapped back up in bullshit/ pled guilty to the law / George came outta prison with his head on straight / teachin’ all the neighborhood children the good ol christian way / till his life was taken from him / for no reason but his race / on the twenty fifth of May”
Under the devil’s knee oh lord, / I’m under the devil’s knee / screamin’ “I cannot breathe” oh lord, / from under the devil’s knee“
Real You is from Burt’s first Oh Boy album, Caught from the Rye.
“If I should say to her farewell / It’s just because I cannot tell / Is it her or I who is hidden in the dark / When her eyes close, mine open / Want the real you now / For the real you now”
In this mini concert from Paste Studios recorded in September of this year, Burt plays three songs live off his most recent You, Yeah You album.
Tré Burt is playing at the DC9 club in Washington on December 1st with Katie Pruitt. Both are worth your time.
More to come…
Image: Headshot credit TréBurt.com