Aaron Burdett makes no conscious effort to bring a blue-collar slant to his song lyrics, but he’s not surprised when people hear one.
“People say that, and I believe it,” Burdett said from his home in Saluda. “I don’t think much about it. I guess it’s kind of what I am.”
He builds houses when he’s not crafting songs. Burdett and his trio return to the Barn at Reynolda Village on Sept. 26 to launch the fourth season of the venue’s More Barn series.
“It’s a unique kind of setting that people don’t get to see us in very often,” he said.
Season 4 of More Barn will see some new faces as well as several returning artists. The schedule so far also features Chatham Rabbits Oct. 17, Queen Bee and the Honey Lovers Nov. 7, Lonesome River Band Nov. 21, Martha Bassett Jan. 23, Wild Ponies Feb. 27, Shana Tucker March 19, and Sam Baker and Friends April 16. One show in May remains to be scheduled.
The Aaron Burdett Acoustic Trio first appeared at the Barn a year ago. The same lineup returns next week: Burdett sings and plays guitar, backed by James Bernabe on mandolin and Kim France on bass. He met Bernabe through mutual music friends, and they started performing as a duo. The duo became a trio when they met France while performing at the Ocrafolk Festival on Ocracoke Island. She splits her time between there and Boone.
“I hit a period a few years ago where the electric band had some personnel issues, and I needed to find something a little more nimble, a little easier to deal with,” Burdett said.
He has been making records since 2005. “His style lends itself to folk but also delves into country, bluegrass and blues,” Mountain Xpress said in 2018. “He combines that with songwriting that feels more like storytelling.” Rick Amburgey, writing in No Depression, said Burdett belongs in the company of other “great male voices” from North Carolina such as Eric Church, James Taylor and Randy Travis.
His childhood in Saluda featured plenty of music, including artists in his father’s record collection such as Cat Stevens, the Grateful Dead and Doc Watson. Burdett’s voice was his first instrument.
“In high school, if you can sing you’re gonna be in some musicals and choral stuff,” he said. “Which I did enjoy, and I still love the human voice.”
He took piano lessons as a boy and picked up guitar at 12 or 13, but didn’t start writing songs until he was in his mid-20s. He loved hard rock and metal bands such as Guns ’N Roses and Metallica as a teenager, then branched off into more traditional music while attending Appalachian State University. There he started paying more attention to old-time music, bluegrass and the work of acoustic guitarists such as Watson, Tony Rice and Norman Blake.
“I felt like it had a lot of that energy that heavy metal and rock had,” Burdett said. “It’s really exuberant and joyful. And honestly, the way those guys flat pick the guitar is amazing, because there’s so much sound coming out, so many notes. I just sort of slid into it slowly over time.”
He assumed ownership of a “failing music store” in Boone after college, then returned home to Saluda after the first of his two daughters was born. He started his contracting business, Solstice Construction, in the mid 2000s, around the same time he put out his debut album.
“I’d been working construction for people,” Burdett said. “At some point you’re working for people and you say, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t see anybody doing anything I can’t do.’”
His built up his songwriting in a similar fashion, developing his craft in his 20s and 30s. His uptempo song “Going Home to Carolina,” released on the 2014 album “Fruits of My Labor,” was inspired by music Burdett listened to 20 years ago while working at a performing arts camp in Steamboat Springs, Colo. He had taken cassettes of a bluegrass show on WNCW out of Spindale with him out west. Inspiration also came from a story his mother told him about an elderly cousin in Georgia running a garden tiller with one hand while holding his cane with the other.
“That’s where the line about how ‘he plowed that field the very day he died’ came from,” Burdett said.
The opening track on his latest album, “Refuge,” from 2017, is a fiddle-driven period piece about railroad construction called “Pennies on the Tracks.” Burdett said the story is fictional, but he did “a little research to get some facts in there.”
While it’s a challenge juggling a family, a business and a music career, he believes performing is important to his mental health.
“I realize when I’m not playing I get kinda morose,” Burdett said. “It’s just such a therapeutic thing for me. It’s better than any therapy session I’ve ever paid for. It just sorts everything out. Everything is a little more OK after I perform.”