The Calgary Sun
oh come angel band,
come and around me stand."
So goes the simple, poignant dedication on the inside cover of Jim Byrnes' new CD House of Refuge.
It doesn't take a genius to know it's a message meant for late Calgary artist Billy Cowsill.
"We went back a long way," says Byrnes from his home in Vancouver, where the two became acquainted.
"He was a good friend and we had a lot of ups and downs -- as everybody did with him -- and I was awful sad to see him go.
"But he's in a better place now."
Quite fittingly, House of Refuge is a heavenly album of gospel blues -- an album celebrating and mourning life, finding redemption and healing in the act of living.
The disc, which is the followup to his acclaimed 2004 release Fresh Horses and a project he's been wanting to embark on for many years now, features a collection of traditional material, contemporary songs and Byrnes originals.
Everything about it is inspired: The set list, which ranges from songs by Nick Lowe and Canadian newcomer Justin Rutledge to the legendary Robert Johnson; the production, which was done by West Coast roots kingpin Steve Dawson; and most importantly, the performances. Byrnes has surrounded himself with some incredible musicians and artists, including Dawson, his co-hort Jesse Zubot and vocal trio The Sojourners.
But, none of that would matter if Byrnes, himself, wasn't at the top of his game, singing every word, every breath as if he meant it and had lived it.
And guess what? He has.
"This is it, I mean you come to a point in your life when you really have experienced these things," he says. "You can take some of the hoariest oldest material, but I've got 58 years of experience behind me.
"And there's a richness of meaning that things begin to take on (and) without experience they don't have the same depth.
"I'm just trying to plumb some of those depths and some of that experience to convey how I feel."
And now, how Byrnes feels is relieved -- relieved to finally have the album out and proud it turned out better than he could have imagined.
"This is something I've dreamed of doing and I listened to it and I can't even believe it," he says. " 'Finally, I actually did this. Hey that's actually me doing what I want to do.'
"After all the time and all of the ups and downs to actually be able to achieve something that you really wanted to do and means so much to you, it's pretty special."