Alan Doyle has said, “Matt’s interpretation of traditional songs is somehow fresh and ancient at the same time. And his voice is friggin’ perfect.”
That pretty well sums it up, and Doyle is not alone in his praise. This week, Matthew Byrne was up for 2 Canadian Folk Music Awards, and went home with a trophy. There are 3 different “Album of the Year” categories at the CFMAs: Traditional, Contemporary, and Children’s Album of the Year. Byrne won in the Traditional Album of the Year category, for his 2017 album, Horizon Lines.
To do so, he had to beat Canadian music legend, and multi-award-wining artist Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Does one even expect to win an award when they’re shortlisted alongside Buffy Sainte Marie?
No b’y, one doesn’t! But there’s more room on my shelf than there is on hers. It’s great to win, of course, and it naturally turns more heads when there are such heavy hitters in the same category … makes it more ‘legit” in the eyes of some, no doubt, when they see who you’re up against.
You told the Overcast in the past, “I’m a storyteller, first and foremost.” What kinds of stories are you most drawn to as a folk musician?
I’m drawn to songs that give me insight into the past. Having been trained as a social historian, I’ve really come to approach traditional songs as sources. In that sense, they reveal a lot about people and places in history. They’re incredible ways of knowing about the time they were written, the language people used, their worldview, relationships, work, etc. Some people use documents, maps, artifacts, photos … but you can’t sing any of those.
Can you tell us a little about a track or two off Horizons that is particularly dear to you, and why?
“Adelaide” is certainly close to me. It’s my own composition, written in the style of a traditional ballad, I guess you could say. It’s a story about a sailor who fell in love with my late Aunt in 1947 when his ship was in St. John’s harbour. They lost touch and he put an open letter in The Evening Telegram many years later to learn of her whereabouts. Dad responded to this letter, and it gets pretty interesting from there. I wrote a song that tells their story, and I’m delighted to see how it has struck a chord with my audiences.
The other track I’m quite close to is the one my Dad sings — his version of Kitty Bawn O’Brien, which was written by Cape Breton’s Allistair McGillivray. I just thought it was so awesome to step away and give Dad a track on the record, and he sounded brilliant. It meant a lot to both of us to see that come together.