Phoenix Blues Society - My Walking Stick
Jim Byrnes is familiar to many people from his appearances on TV shows like Wiseguy (as Lifeguard) from the late 80’s, or as Joe Dawson from the late 90’s syndicated favorite, Highlander, but he’s always considered himself a musician first and foremost. Born and raised in St. Louis, Byrnes absorbed all the great music emanating from the city during the glory days of blues and R&B. Artists like Chuck Berry, Ike & Tina Turner, Ray Charles, and Muddy Waters all frequently played in the city and were major influences on Byrnes’ style, a rootsy blend of blues, R&B, and gospel.
Byrnes’ gritty vocals, the various genres covered by the track list, and the diverse instrumentation of some tracks bring to mind the music of The Band (whose “Ophelia” is one of the standout tracks covered). Steve Dawson’s production gives this disc gives an earthy feel. There’s nothing slick here. This is the real deal as far as roots music goes (I would call it Americana, but it doesn’t seem right, given it was produced in Canada…..let’s call it North Americana).
Byrnes expertly manages a varied set of tunes. His own compositions range from the bluesy “Ol’ Rattler” and “Talk In Circles.” Tracks like Mel Tillis’ “Walk On Boy,” “My Walking Stick,” “Ophelia,” “Three Shots,” and “Lonely Blue Boy (Danny’s Song)” all sit comfortably in the roots section, while there are also nods to gospel with Washington Phillips’ “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?” and the traditional “I Want My Crown,” both featuring exquisite harmonies by the Vancouver gospel trio The Sojourners, who are spectacular throughout.
Byrnes revisits his St. Louis influences with a great set of obscure covers, including a soulful remake of the Valentinos’ “Lookin’ for a Love” (spiced up by Dawson’s slide guitar), Little Milton’s “I’m Living Off The Love You Give,” and a remake of Ray Charles’ “Drown In My Own Tears” that will raise chill bumps. The swampy “One Life (Creole Poetry)” closes the disc on a moody note.
In addition to The Sojourners, Byrnes enjoys the assistance of Chris Gestrin on keyboards, Jesse Zubot on violin, Keith Lowe on bass, and drummers Stephen Hodges and Matt Chamberlain. The multi-talented producer Dawson handles all the guitar work.
Jim Byrnes has won several Juno Awards (the Canadian counterpart to the U.S. Grammy) in recent years. One listen to My Walking Stick and you’ll realize that they were well-deserved. This is a must-have for roots music fans. – Graham Clarke