By Mike O’Cull
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Ricky Byrd delivers another batch of straight ahead, meaningful rock and roll on his new album Sobering Times, which dropped September 25th, 2020 on Kayos Records. Byrd made it into the Hall in 2015 as a member of Joan Jett and The Blackhearts but has also recorded and performed with Roger Daltrey and toured with Ian Hunter, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. He has shared stages with music royalty including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Alice Cooper, Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt, Smokey Robinson, and Mavis Staples, as well.
As cool as all that is, what’s more important to Ricky Byrd these days is his 30+ years of sobriety and his work as a recovery coach and drug/alcohol counselor. Sobering Times is a rock and roll set about recovery by a guitarist and singer who survived the disease of addiction and has dedicated his life to helping others outlive their own excesses.
Byrd is a true rock and roll veteran who has lived the life he sings about and is intimately acquainted with its pitfalls. These days, he visits schools, rehab facilities, detention and detox centers to perform, talk, and lead recovery music groups in hopes of inspiring and assisting those who are still fighting to live a clean and sober life. Produced by Byrd and Bob Stander, Sobering Times is dedicated to all who struggle with addiction, the recovery warriors who help them, those that support a sober lifestyle, and everyone that still loves loud-and-proud rock and roll. Byrd is backed up on these sessions by an all-star band that includes co-producer Bob Stander (bass guitar, percussion), Jeff Kazee (keyboardist with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes), drummers Steve Holley (Wings / Ian Hunter / Joe Cocker), Liberty DeVitto (Billy Joel), Rich Pagano (The Fab Faux, session ace), and Thommy Price (Joan Jett, Billy Idol, Mink DeVille) and vocalist Christine “The Beehive Queen” Ohlman (Saturday Night Live Band).
Sobering Times kicks off with the driving and lyrical “Quittin’ Time (Again).” It’s a song about someone realizing that it might be time to leave a life of whiskey and cocaine behind once and for all. It’s an upbeat, rocking song with a strong Rolling Stones influence but it carries a serious message. Byrd’s lyrics are absolutely authentic and believable, having walked this road himself long ago, and his delivery is pure NYC rock and roll.
“Together” punches even harder and is built on a tough floor tom-based beat. The song deals with the idea that everybody needs somebody and that we’re all here to support each other. It’s an unflinchingly positive song meant for negative situations and will hopefully do its intended job of convincing someone to not give up. “I Come Back Stronger” is a dramatic mid-speed cut about bottoming out but rising again with a heart full of hope. Byrd sings it without a trace of irony and, in doing so, infuses the track with the power to touch and heal the human spirit.
One of Sobering Times most enjoyable moments is Byrd’s cover of Merle Haggard’s “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down.” The version here isn’t country in the least but instead lives in that Stones/Faces pocket that Ricky does so well. It’ll fill any dance floor in the world and overflows with hip-shaking abandon.
Every song here is part of Byrd’s social and spiritual mission and deserves some concentrated listening time, especially “Hear My Song,” “Tired,” and “Life Is Good.” Ricky Byrd is a genuine rock and roll survivor who wants other people to survive, too. His heart couldn’t be any more in the right place and his joy to be alive and making great music is obvious. The record is true soul work and everyone who made it through their own crazy years needs to hear it.
Listen to “Just Like You”
Ricky Byrd Online