Juke Joint Soul
Jim Byrnes is probably not familiar by name to most folks here in the U.S. as a blues musician. No, you probably recognized him from his extensive work as Joe Dawson, The Watcher in the Highlander television series. Born in St. Louis, MO; Byrnes has lived in Canada since the 70s and has been a working blues and roots musician since the 80s. Byrnes has twice won the Juno Award for Blues Album of the Year, for That River in 1996 and House of Refuge on Black Hen Music in 2007. Byrnes was also honoured at the 2006 Maple Blues Awards, as Male Vocalist of the Year. His releases have gone simply under the radar here in the States.
My Walking Stick, like many Canadian releases, is more of a hybrid of folk, soul, roots rock, and blues. His gravelly vocals can be tender or be a raspy drink of whiskey - conjuring thoughts of Joe Cocker at times. The gifted gospel group The Sojourners join Byrnes effectively on six songs, including a very true rendition of Ray Charles' "Drown In My Own Tears." "I'm Living Off the Love You Give" demonstrates both a knack for the pen and a good hook. Byrnes blends in harmony on the haunting ballad to post-Katrina New Orleans with female vocalist Jeanne Tolme on "One Life (Creole Poetry)." This haunting melody is a fine tribute to the Crescent City's woes both from Katrina and concurrently with the ongoing oilspill disaster. Byrnes joins forces with Black Hen mogul Steve Dawson for most of the record with both pen and guitar and voice. It is a fine modern folk album but I would say it's not close to even contemporary blues, though it is on the album's fringes. Byrnes is comparable to the cream of the current crop of Canadian roots musicians, especially the likes of a Colin Linden. This album would be for folks who like their roots music dabbled with a little blues and soul, but not encompassing the work. It's a fine work that sure to be added to Byrnes recent successes in the Canadian roots market.