Juno Award-winning bluesman Jim Byrnes has long been a mainstay of the Canadian blues scene, but he actually grew up in St. Louis. He explores those personal and musical roots on St. Louis Times, an album he terms his most personal yet. This compelling disc reminds us that St. Louis has had a crucial role in American music, so we should be grateful Byrnes wasn't born in, say, Des Moines.
As well as covering some classic tunes linked with the city, Byrnes and long-time collaborator and producer Steve Dawson also came up with strong originals that fit the theme nicely. Stand-out covers include Chuck Berry's "Nadine," W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" and Albert King's "I Get Evil," while the strongest original is "The Journey Home," a spoken word style autobiographical reflection of poetic power. Byrnes' warm and supple voice has always been at home in many genres (2012's I Hear The Wind In The Wires was a country album), and there's plenty of stylistic variety here. The legendary John Hammond guests on four cuts and Colin James on one.
Dawson's production and guitar work (on acoustic, electric, slide and steel) is as impeccable as ever, while a horn section and an A-list posse of Vancouver players put even more meat on the bones. This is an early contender for Canadian blues record of the year.