There's a scene that plays in your mind as you listen to the pastoral songs of Julie Byrne. It's a scene that could have been seen today, with a summer's heat wave burning out all the lawns and making everything feel like a chore. It's a scene that requires a hose and a sprinkler and a decent-enough-sized backyard for a handful of kids to run around in. It's setting that sprinkler down, right in the middle of the patch of lemon-green grass, turning the faucet on and setting the children loose. Then you slow it down and you muffle the sounds. You put some sunglasses on - your job mostly over aside from observing and keeping the peace, when you have to.
You lean back in a lawn chair and watch as the entire view just softens around the edges, becoming something of a surreal experience, though there's no doubt that it's yours. You know that you're living in it, but something about it is suspended and phantom-like. The droplets of water are sent flying into the air, sprayed this way and that, taking forever to collide with a kid's sunscreened skin or to plink onto the soggy ground. The sounds feel as if they're coming from another county over - faint, almost timid or as afterthoughts.
It's in a setting like that where Byrne can establish the mood, which is only partially present. It's a place of reflection, of sinewy memories, of something slightly disturbed and moderately drunken. It's a setting that allows you to feel as if everything is as it should be while you run through the many confusing properties of your time spent pounding out the answers to what ails you.
She sings about capturing "the shadows that fall on my face" and it seems that what the Chicago-based songwriter does with these shadows is that she invites them in, where there's some air conditioning and favorable conditions for interrogative questioning, for sussing out. She makes those shadows her friends. She rubs their bellies and lets them sleep at the end of her bed whenever they like. During the day, they all go back out to the yard and lie in the sun, near the sprinkler spray and the slow-motion, barely there children having a great day.
*Essay originally published July, 2013