There’s something romantic about the idea of songwriter Travis Cyr, living in the St. John Valley, writing songs during the day, playing music in County bars at night, living life deliberately up in the great north. After all, Cyr didn’t have to move home to Van Buren; he could have stayed in Portland or Vermont, both of which boast far more robust music scenes. He’s certainly got the talent to go toe-to-toe with any bigger city band or songwriter. But why would he, when he’s right where he wants to be?
Despite Cyr’s steadfast devotion to the County — in addition to playing music there, he books shows at Eureka Hall in Stockholm and each year plans the Arootsakoostik Festival in New Sweden — his songs could be about anyone living in a rural place, with its ample space to breathe and space. On his latest album, a self-titled release that came out in early November, he pulls together songs written over the course of nearly ten years, some of which appear on earlier albums, some of which are brand-new. “Travis Cyr,” packed with 19 songs in total, is the perfect primer on Cyr’s work — a muscular, thoughtful, intense brand of acoustic folk, peppered with bluegrass-y flourishes and propelled by chunky, rhythmic guitar riffs.
There are a number of highlights here, starting with opening track “Feel Like I,” a rollicking, transformational bluegrass barnstormer, recorded, as many of the songs here were, in Portland with longtime musician and engineer (and County native) Frank Hopkins. “Song of Myself,” one of the album’s true rockers, features Cyr reassuring himself about something — it’s the kind of confessional, direct songwriting you might hear from early-era Ani DiFranco. “Orbit,” a gorgeous, simple folk song, could be on an Avett Brothers album, while “Bag of Rain” falls somewhere right in between those two styles. Cyr, as strong a lyricist as he is guitarist, is not afraid to go for the five, seven, even twelve-minute song, like the excellent “Captain,” a song about the tracking of the seasons, and of emotions, or the extended jam “Bob Dylan’s Canadian Wife,” a spooky slow-burner that somehow conjures by My Morning Jacket and Neil Young, both of which first appeared on earlier albums, re-recorded versions appearing here. Even with those bluegrass and rock trappings, Cyr is one of those rare birds nowadays — a true blue folksinger, in the best sense of the word.