Most Grateful Dead fans probably recognize the epithet ‘J Burn’ as a euphemism for smoking a joint, but it may soon come to evoke another entity entirely. J Burn is also a San Franciscan musician whose stellar accompaniment and family band style suggest a shift in terminology may be in order—not to worry, Dead Heads, Burn’s lax brand of Americana still jibes with the stoned patois of The Dead. Burn released his first EP, Burnt Blue, back in June and it features contributions from the likes of Jay Lane (Primus) and Jason Crosby (Erick Clapton, Carlos Santana). His Elliot Smith-like vocals dwell pleasantly at the fore of what is a convivial, four-song patchwork of fiddles, guitars, banjos and mandolins.
It’s hard not to picture The Grateful Dead as the graven image of the J Burn experience—Burnt Blue was recorded at Bob Weir’s storied TRI Studios, after all—but it may be more accurate to describe J Burn as a folksy, San Francisco version of Lynyrd Skynyrd. In Burnt Blue, Burn has shed the psychedelic tones and instead focused his lyrics on bucolic imagery and earthly imaginings of the quotidian. He sings of trains, yesterdays and dusty trails in what could be construed as a hippie riff on the Southern experience.
“Oh freight train…may your course be true. I don’t care where you’re going; I’m going to leave that up to you,” Burn sings in Burnt Blue’s first track, “Freight Train.” “Memory Lane” remembers the “golden days” of youth and, in “Old Time Heroes”, Burn sings “Can you play me a melody from some sweet forgotten tune, that reminds me of a time—but simpler—when the band always carried perfect tune.”
The EP is rife with nostalgia and longing, but nothing better resembles the libertarian utopia Lynyrd Skynyrd spent so much time fantasizing than its final track, “Our Song Shared”: “Way back in ’87, we were trippin’ down that open road, not a worry between us, as we made our way together. We were cruisin’ any way the wind did blow. Back then, freedom wasn’t just a dream. We were living simple and happy, well within our means.”
Given the context, it’s easy to spend the entire Burnt Blue listen envisaging a ‘j’ burning in the mouth of a wandering nomad, shaded and resting beneath a tree with a banjo in his hands and fond memories in his mind. If that sounds like your kind of reverie, you're in for a treat.