Jim Byrnes is better known as an actor, at least in the States - he played "Lifeguard" to undercover agent Vinnie Terranova (Ken Wahl) in the great '80s TV series Wiseguy. But the St. Louis-born singer and guitarist is also a superb roots musician, and in Canada a multiple award-winning one. My Walking Stick came out earlier this year, but it's too good to go without a mention before 2009 passes.
The album, named after the Irving Berlin title song and featuring key contributions from producer and multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson, mixes top-flight self-penned numbers with covers well- known and obscure. Singing in a weathered but warm voice, Byrnes sometimes offers inspired rearrangements - the Band's "Ophelia" is slowed to ballad pace in the verses, and the horns are replaced by fiddle and a gospel chorus - and sometimes he sticks close to the source, as on the Ray Charles hit "Drown in My Own Tears." Either way, Byrnes deeply inhabits all the material, weaving the various strains of country, R&B, gospel, and folk into a personal vision that manages to sound both age-old and original.