"I'm not really a pop singer," Megan Burtt says. "I just want to make music that's accessible, while still being true to myself. When I started writing songs, I didn't know the shapes the fingers were supposed to make on the guitar, so I made up my own chords. I think that's why I have a unique way of hearing and composing."
The music on The Bargain is bright and uplifting and, while it does have the inviting sheen of pop, Burtt's distinctive melodies, poignant, soul-searching vocals and profoundly insightful lyrics deliver a message informed by sorrow and uncertainty. A few years back, Burtt fell prey to a potentially life threatening condition, but her faith in the healing power of music and her determination to become a performing artist brought her out of the shadows.
"These songs are about my struggle to recover my health," she explains. "The word 'bargain' is provocative because we're constantly bargaining, deciding how and when we should show up in our lives. Every day, decision, connection and relationship feels like an exchange of something for something else, things we may not be aware of until we're dancing with mortality."
That dance is the subtext of the music on The Bargain. Louis Cato (Bobby McFerrin, Marcus Miller, Snarky Puppy, Mariah Carey) a talented multi-instrumentalist, and long time member of Burtt's backing band, produced the album, creating perfect settings for her gently passionate vocals.
The Bargain opens with the confident anthem "Ain't Seen Nothing Yet." Adam Tressler's stirring guitar and propulsive bass line support Burtt's stacked harmonies and a vocal that's delicately balanced between vulnerability and self-assurance. Drummer James Williams provides a funky New Orleans flavored back beat for "Real Thing," a song that portrays the struggle between the pull of carnal desire and the need for spiritual release. "I'm asking if it's possible to love if you're not letting people see the real you," Burtt explains.
Tressler's icy slide guitar and Williams' tom toms lay down a sultry, swampy groove for "It's My Time." The ominous bluesy tune is full of subtle twists and turns that keep the tension high as Burtt's unsettling, behind the beat vocal conjures up love's redemptive force, even as she caresses the void at the edge of the grave. The title track locks into a four-on-the-floor rhythm with Cato's spacey, stuttering keyboard pulse and distorted guitar fills giving the music a propulsive drive. Burtt's defiant vocal conjures the picture of a woman rising from the ashes triumphant.
Cato and Burtt crafted the arrangements on The Bargain with a fine ear for sonic nuance and melodic detail. Their refined blend of rock, funk, jazz and blues pulls the music into interesting shapes, full of unexpected delights, songs that are accessible, while remaining true to Burtt's inimitable lyrical vision.
Megan Burtt was born and bred in Denver, CO. "I've always written songs," she says. "I took piano lessons when I was young, but when I picked up my dad's old classical guitar, things took off." Inspired by Joni Mitchell's Blue, Burtt taught herself to play, dreaming of a musical career. "I didn't know any girls who played music, but Blue, Bonnie Raitt's Nick of Time and the women on the MTV videos I saw, let me know it was possible."
After high school, she moved to Boston to attend the Berklee School of Music. There she made two EPs she calls her "practice records." "As soon as I met other musicians, I put together a band and started playing. We took every gig we could get. I loved being on stage with such talented players. It developed my ear, made my guitar playing more solid and made me a confident bandleader and performer."
When she graduated from Berklee, Burtt moved to Mississippi to investigate the roots of American blues music. While there, she contracted a potentially fatal disease, but she never stopped singing or performing, and eventually found her way to full recovery. She played music in Vietnam for a couple of months, then returned to the States to record It Ain't Love, a 12 song collection she made with the friends that still make up the backbone of her recording band – Louis Cato, guitarist Adam Tressler and James Williams. One of the songs on the album, "Waiting for June," won Best Song at the 2010 Rocky Mountain Folk Festival and the 2011 Kerrville New Folk Competition.
In 2013, Burtt began writing and preproduction on the songs that would become The Bargain and continued annual holiday tours of the Pennsylvania prison system with her band. "The maximum security inmates we play for are some of my favorite audiences. It's incredible to perform for people who are truly grateful you're there."
After two years of careful production, The Bargain arrives to show off Cato's creative production and Burtt's bold vocals. "It's more honest and evolved than my first album," Burtt says. "I'm beyond excited to start sharing these songs with my fans. I'm tying a bow around this album, knowing that I put everything I had to give into it."