Jim Byrnes is one of the most soulful singers to ever call Vancouver home, but on his new gospel-blues release, House of Refuge, the veteran musician gets some pretty stiff competition from the Sojourners, aka vocalists Marcus Mosely, Will Sanders, and Ron Small. The trio performs on seven of the CD’s 12 tracks and sets the tone for some seriously spiritual sounds.
The Sojourners’ three-part harmonies kick off the traditional opener, “Didn’t It Rain”, before Byrnes’s own whiskey-soaked vocals take the lead. Fuelling the fire is the world-class playing of guitarist Steve Dawson and fiddle ace Jesse Zubot, who also lent their talents to Byrnes’s previous recording, 2004’s adventurous roots outing Fresh Horses.
The Byrnes-penned “Running Out of Time” is a low-down, testifyin’ blues jam that brings to mind ZZ Top’s “Blue Jean Blues” but without the Texas-fried guitar histrionics. Arguably the finest tune in the House, it features an extremely tasty organ solo from Chris Gestrin, sweet pedal-steel guitar from Dawson, and Zubot’s unbeatable fiddle work. As well as straight-ahead gospel numbers such as Justin Rutledge’s “Lay Me Down Sweet Jesus” and Skip James’s “Be Ready When He Comes”, Byrnes serves up a unique, ukulele-driven take on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” and offers the diehard blues freaks a treat with Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal Gone Down”, which is highlighted by Dawson’s slippery Weissenborn guitar licks. Or is it more accurate to say that Zubot’s shit-kickin’ fiddle steals the show? Man, those wacky Zubot & Dawson guys, they’re too good.