The Vancouver Sun
Vancouver blues musician, sometime actor and general man about town Jim Byrnes goes to the fortress in his latest album, House of Refuge. That fortress is the house of the Lord, the rock on which Byrnes builds his house.
Byrnes is focused intently on the life of the spirit here as he tells us inside the CD cover that these are the songs of hope, longing, sin and redemption.
Opening with the rousing a capella voices of The Sojourners, Byrnes gets right to work with a proper gospel shaker called Didn't It Rain. You just know it's gotta be about Noah. There's an acoustic guitar-based gospel number in Byrnes' own Of Whom Shall I Be Afraid? and the question of a man aging quickly in the slow blues of Running Out of Time.
Byrnes mixes some ragtime-y country blues from Bill Broonzy in Big Bill's Blues with some slow gospel blues in Skip James' Be Ready When He Comes with its lush vocal accompaniment.
He also turns to Robert Johnson for Last Fair Deal Gone Down, Hoagy Carmichael for a gentle Stardust and Nick Lowe for the much-covered The Beast in Me.
With help from Wurlitzers and organs, ukuleles, mandolins, violins, steel guitars and do bros, and the voices of Jeanne Tolmie and the Sojourners, Byrnes gives that deep voice of his a lusty workout in the service of the voice above and within.