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Two New Albums - Recorded 32 Years Apart
If it’s been discovered by man, West Virginia’s Todd Burge has written about it. A born ponderer and observer of life, each of his songs tells a story. Whether drawn from personal experience or a tale of poetically woven fiction, you’ll live every second of it through his songs.
Described as “like a Randy Newman with a guitar” and “a Warren Zevon who can evoke bizarre characters and situations” by No Depression (Amos Perrine), Burge is a master of channeling the spirit of songwriters present and past. Be it the grit and gravel of Paul Thorn, the melodic grace of Neil Diamond, or the witty wordplay of Roger Miller, Burge’s ability allows him to flawlessly cater to the song while maintaining a signature swing and vocal timbre that's all his own.
Sharing bills with greats like Hot Tuna, Bela Fleck, Lucinda Williams, Ricky Skaggs, and Justin Townes Earle, as well as gracing the stages of The Kennedy Center, Nelsonville Music Festival, Music City Roots, The Country Music Hall of Fame, and repeat guest of the global NPR podcast and radio show (and West Virginia’s pride), “Mountain Stage”, Todd Burge wears a sash full of musical badges.
Now, he’s taking that sash back to West Virginia University, his alma mater, to teach the very first songwriting course the university has ever offered. “When I was attending WVU back in the 80’s and writing my first album, I really would’ve loved to have had a songwriter course there that I could take. Instead, I took as much English and theater and music as I possibly could in hopes of becoming a better songwriter, and now, decades later, I get to teach the course I always wanted to take.”
And, this November, he’s releasing two original albums, recorded thirty-two years apart.
The first, Todd Burge (1986 The First Album), is his never-released first record, and the second, Your Reflection Will Kill You, is his latest work recorded by Don Dixon (James McMurtry, REM), both being released as a duo of now-and-then sonic bookends, both opposite and yet intertwined, as a collection of stories that brought Burge to where he is today.
A victim of record industry red tape, “the 1986 album was probably the second or third time I was ever in a studio. It’s a rock and roll record with bits of punk. I’m not surprised at how it sounds when I listen to it now, because I know I was filled with angst back then. Maybe that’s what I needed it to be when I was recording that music. Now I listen to it as if someone else created it, and it really helped me decide which songs would go on the new record.”
A few years and a few experiences later, Your Reflection Will Kill You, shows that, like good whiskey, Burge is refined with time.
“Back to the Races”, the opening cut from Your Reflection Will Kill You, “is about staying together and solving problems. It’s about learning and moving on. Moving forward by using the tools your parents have given you. As I sat down to write this song, I thought of a three-legged race, of a father and a son working together to win. I thought of how a father might teach a son in hopes that he becomes strong enough to survive after he is gone. I thought of my parent’s divorce and not seeing my father as much as I would’ve liked to while I was growing up. That of course has driven a lot of my writing.”
On “Your Reflection Will Kill You”, the lyrics “are really a stream of consciousness thing. It’s kind of a conversation with myself - a conversation with my younger self. It talks about looking back and if you stay stuck there, how that can poison you.”
On the making of the new record, Burge tells us, “I wanted to be as comfortable as possible, so I asked Don Dixon (James McMurtry, REM) to come to my home. Don is a master at capturing a live recording session and making everyone feel comfortable. He has a great set of ears and great taste. You can trust his opinion, and that is important as, after a while, when I record, I don’t trust my own.”
Burge goes on to say, “The only rule I brought to the table was that we would not use anything but our acoustic instruments. Steel string guitar for me, nylon for Ryan (Kennedy), upright acoustic for John (Inghram). See, I have this emotional attachment to that sound that dates back to when I was five or six years old, back when I was still taking naps, I think. I would ask my mother to play Roger Miller’s greatest hits. You know Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”? Miller played a nylon string guitar. It’s a sound you don’t hear often in country music, but Roger Miller was not typical. I’ve been a huge fan of Willie Nelson’s since I was in grade school as well. Another nylon string guitar player. That guitar sound is just embedded in me. It moves me more than most sounds do.”
“Don’t Water My Whiskey Down”, the fourth track on the new album, pairs those nylon strings with some heavy, honest words about parenthood and the state he calls home: “Irish whiskey being my adult beverage of choice, this phrase just popped in my head one day, and I wrote a bunch of verses. As our kids get older, more and more I find myself talking to them like they are my friend, and I will sometimes think to myself, did I say too much? Did I just change their life for the worse by telling them that family story? It also talks about West Virginia, and how it has been oppressed for years. Our land has been raped and our people ripped off. Our water poisoned and our beauty diminished. In the song, I use whiskey as a metaphor for both strength and weakness.”
Whether they’re played first record to last or last to first, once they’re in your hand it’s your call, but either way it plays as fluidly as a film score -- and maybe that’s because it’s just that: the aural film of his life.
WHAT THEY SAID
“Literate, witty, off-kilter & always highly entertaining...a real revelation. We definitely want him to come again."
Pete Marshall, Prism Coffeehouse, Charlottesville, VA / WTJU Charlottesville
"He's got a great talent as a writer and unique view of the world; he's invented his own art form. His songs just get better and better.”Tim O’Brien (Singer-Songwriter, Grammy winner)
“I'm convinced - Ingenious Todd Burge successfully blends more wit and wisdom per song than anyone else I've enjoyed in years.” Ron Goad - Vice Pres – Songwriter’s Association of Washington DC
"His by-turns smart, serious and funny tunes and his confident stage presence are a master class in the art of the solo singer-songwriter craft." Douglas Imbrogno - The Charleston Gazzette
"Man I have really been digging your Building Characters CD. Sometimes I literally laugh out loud at the some of the lines and stories. Great stuff Todd. The Jesus Night Light song cracks me up, but the whole CD is really original. My thanks and compliments to you." Jason Ringenberg/Jason & The Scorchers/Farmer Jason
“With wit and pathos in equal measure, Todd Burge takes on subjects in his songs that never occur to most folks. Subjects too quirky, too controversial, too obtuse for most writers to get a handle on. His compelling vocal style and unique perspective keep me interested long after the last note rings out.”
Don Dixon – Producer (R.E.M. Joan Baez) Performer, Songwriter
notable Past Live Performances
Mountain Stage (NPR)
The Kennedy Center
Chautauqua Theatre (Chautauqua NY)
Nelsonville Music Festival
Music City Roots
The Country Music Hall of Fame
Rolling Hills Radio
The Station Inn
Ashland Coffee and Tea
Peoples Bank Theatre
The Kent Stage
123 Pleasant Street
Todd Burge has shared the stage with:
Bill Kirchen (Duo Tour)
Mollie O’Brien & Rich Moore (Trio Tour)
The Carpenter Ants
Iron and Wine
Justin Townes Earle
Chris Hillman & Herb Petersen
Todd Burge Discography (Solo) Listen
Adam of Eve b/w Bald Eagle (Soar Away With Me) Digital Single (2018)
Live on Mountain Stage (April 2016)
Live in Orlando (Download with video 2016)
Imitation Life (2015)
Building Characters (2012)
Character Building (2012)
Distraction Packed (2010)
My Lost and Found (2008)
Most Requested 1989-2000 (2007)
Hip About Time (2006)
New Year (2003)
Dreams Upstairs (2000)
Live at Raveler’s (1997)
Tin Since (1994)
New World Out of Order (1992)
Live at Maxwell’s (1991)
Never Say Uncle (1990)
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