There’s nothing more powerful than a good song and nobody knows that better than Jim Byrnes does. So, his decision to record an album of songs from the golden age of country music – many of which he’s been listening to for all his life - shouldn’t be all that surprising. Because when it all comes down - Rock, Blues, Folk, and Country – are only labels. And there was a time when those labels didn’t matter. Because if you know how to listen right, you’ll understand that there’s far less than a country mile separating Muddy Waters from Gene Autry. After all, Louis Armstrong and Jimmie Rodgers loved to sing together and you can bet they never once wondered if their collaborations confused their ‘target audience.’ And, as Jim loves to tell people, the blues great Johnny Shines put it all into perspective for him many years ago by saying that Robert Johnson was the best country singer he’d ever heard.
If a song is good enough, it can lift us up, bring us to tears, and heal a broken heart. That’s something that Jim Byrnes first learned many years ago when he was a kid in St. Louis, curled up in the living room and listening through his mother’s record collection. Ella Fitzgerald, The Mills Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller and all those great big bands of the day gave Byrnes’ his earliest musical education.
This passion for a good song has never left Jim and he’s spent the past four decades of his life listening to, writing down, singing and sharing music with a dedicated core of fans and music lovers. With such an encyclopedic knowledge of North American popular songs at his fingertips, when the mood strikes him to go into the studio, he dives back into his record collection like a jungle explorer or old crusader in search of the Holy Grail. And if songs are like gold, Jim’s come back from his latest expedition armed with treasure and a satchel full of songs drawn from the depths of the well of American and Canadian roots traditions clutched firmly in his weathered hands.
This time around, Byrnes turns back the hands of time to take his listeners into the world of country music, but it’s not the kind of country we’ve heard on the radio any time this century. The tales of lawlessness and tender love, recklessness and yearning, and tough as nails characters with sentimental flaws are songs that Byrnes sounds as if he was born to sing. With Jim’s compatriot, Steve Dawson back in the saddle again as producer and multi-instrumentalist (electric and acoustic guitars, slide guitar, pedal steel, baritone guitar, banjo, ukelele), ”I Hear The Wind In The Wires” is surely the most natural, satisfying and downright joyous album of Byrnes’ lengthy career.
To hear these two men celebrate the music of Buck Owens, Ray Price, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins and other fathers of country music is a rare and exhilarating experience. After a partnership that stretches through five albums, 2 Juno Awards, and countless tours, Byrnes and Dawson sound completely natural together interpreting these songs that they both sound born to play and sing.
Not just any musician can feel music like this and bring it to life, so when Jim and Steve hunkered down with their vintage equipment and gear for a four day recording session at Bryan Adams’ Warehouse Studios in Vancouver, they brought the cream of the city’s players in with them. With musicians like Geoff Hicks (drums), Chris Gestrin (organ, tack piano, wirlitzer), Mike Sanyshyn (fiddle), John Resichman (mandolin), and Rob Becker (bass) on board, there’s not a single note wasted as the ensemble sings and plays with an economy and intuition that is missing from most modern blues and country records that favor over-playing and glossy production more than talent and authentic emotion.
Whether Jim’s delivering a swinging, soulful take of Hank Williams’ ‘Honky Tonk Blues’ in his best loping, old rake of a cowboy voice over a funky organ and pedal steel duet, or he’s getting down with a heartfelt interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Ribbon of Darkness’ that gives new meaning to the expression ‘world-weary’, Byrnes and Dawson are firing on all cylinders from the first to the last note of “I Hear The Wind In The Wires”. As Byrnes remembers, ‘Man, this was such a great experience. Every night Steve and I were in the studio, we’d think of other songs we could do. This album just scratches the surface. This could easily be a six CD box set and we’d still have songs to burn!”
Take just one listen to Byrnes and Colleen Rennison of ‘No Sinner’ rave their way through ‘Wild Mountain Berries’ - the old Kenny Vernon and Lawanda Lindsey duet - before you hear him light into Little Willie John’s ‘Big Blue Diamonds’ or nail a truly transcendent take of Nick Lowe’s ‘Sentimental Man’ and you’ll be crossing your fingers and hoping that this is just the first of many such records and that that box set Jim is talking about is just around the corner. Until then, you’ll just have to let the songs on “I Hear The Wind In The Wires” knock the frown off your face, pick you up and dust you off before sending you out - six guns smoking – to go looking for love in all the wrong places.