"North Country is where I began," Burns acknowledges. "It took a long time to get back to this space. I tried to do the rock thing. I tried to do the electric guitar thing. I enjoy playing blues and reggae. But I started off as a folk player, an acoustic player, traditional Irish stuff and all that. I gradually came back to it -- but I think with a lot of growth from everything else I've done."
Burns' journey to North Country actually started back in 2012, when he and his family moved to Annapolis and he formed a bluegrass band there. He began writing the songs that would be part of the album, though he notes that self-funding made for "a very slow process." He found Nashville welcoming -- or, as he puts it, "very unintimidating, no negative vibe" -- and North Country features an impressive cadre of guests, including Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Tift Merritt, Old Crow Medicine Show's Critter Fuqua, Tim O'Brien, Union Station's Dan Tyminski (on "Waiting on Something to Give") and others.
"I went to Nashville and started working and just asked people for some suggestions," Burns recalls, "like, 'Who do you like for fiddle or mandolin on this,' and they'd name somebody and I'd get them, and then they might bring in somebody else. Tim O'Brien brought in Sam Grisman to play upright (bass). I remember Sam (Bush) calling me one day from the studio, 'What do you want me to do?' 'Sam, do what you do -- you're Sam Bush!' It was just great to be working with these people and listening to them make the music better."
As he prepares North Country for its release, Burns "couldn't be happier" with the way it turned out, or with his decision to return to his musical roots. "There's nothing on here that makes me cringe," he notes. "You're always very critical of yourself and how you sound -- working in Nashville I learned that everybody is like that. But for my taste and my education, I think this sounds pretty good, and I'm thankful for that."