From Austin, Texas, where they know a thing or two about both genres, Jonny Burke excels at folk tunes, but is off on his rock tunes, on “Distance and Fortune.”
It’s not the instrumental execution that’s off; Burke blasts out of the gate with “Broke Again,” which sounds somewhere between Springsteen and The Hold Steady, musically. The problem is the vocals, which are blown out and gravelly. The parts don’t mesh right, and the song feels uncomfortable. I’m sure that it makes much more sense live, but on disc, it’s a bit odd.
What makes even less sense is that when he plays acoustic folk, his voice is even, emotive and gorgeous. “In the Autumn” is an absolute knockout of a folk song, incorporating guitar twang, snare shuffle and solid melodies into a tune that almost jumps onto mixtapes. I selfishly want him to stop singing rock songs so that he preserves his voice for his folk tunes, lest he end up like Tom Waits. “Little Girl of the World” is another slow, pristine folk tune that relies on Burke’s sensitive, emotive voice; “Don’t Let Me Fall” goes on for six heartbreaking minutes.
But for every heartrending folk tune, there’s a rock tune that doesn’t match up in quality. “Cracka Jack” is the closest that Burke comes to combining his great vocals and rock; I wouldn’t be so opposed to his rock tunes if he gave us more of the gorgeous vocals he’s capable of. But even “Cracka Jack” doesn’t feature a performance as attention-grabbing as his folk tunes.
You can rock and have a great voice; it is totally possible. Burke needs to stop trashing his voice for the sake of attitude, lest he ruin his brilliant folk songs. In that vein, half of “Distance and Fortune” is great; the other half, not so much. If he ever does an acoustic session of the entire album, sign me up. —Stephen Carradini