Phoenix Blues Society
One of my favorite CDs from last year was Jim Byrnes’ My Walking Stick. It was one of those albums that sort of snuck up on me. I only knew Byrnes from his TV roles on Wiseguy and Highlander, and while I knew he was a musician, I’d never heard him. I was totally clueless and ready to lump him in with the other “celebrities” who’d made recordings (Bruce Willis, anyone?). Well, after wiping the egg off my face, I was sold…..Jim Byrnes is the real deal as far as blues and roots music goes, going back to his days as a youngster in St. Louis, listening to and playing with legends like Henry Townsend and Furry Lewis. He ain’t “pretty-playin’,” folks……he’s getting down and dirty.
Needless to say, I was excited to see Everywhere West (Black Hen Music) in my mailbox a few weeks back. As on his previous three releases, Byrnes teams up with producer/multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson for a glorious mixture of originals and classic blues and roots. Also on hand are some of Canada’s finest musicians, including harmonica player Keith Bennett, bass player Keith Lowe, drummer Geoff Hicks, and fiddle/trumpet player Daniel Lapp.
Byrnes and Dawson’s original compositions are first-rate, including the opening track, “Hot As A Pistol” (featuring some torrid slide from Dawson) and the country-tinged “Walk On.” The menacing “Storm Warning” is another keeper, and “Me and Piney Brown” is a vivid country blues “autobiographical dream tune.”
Byrnes and Dawson have unearthed a diverse mix of old tunes, ranging from a rootsy transformation of the Bobby Bland standard, “Yield Not To Temptation,” a fabulous unplugged take of the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Bootlegger’s Blues,” and a soulful reading of Lowell Fulson’s ”Black Nights.”
Everywhere West is another winner for Jim Byrnes, as he pays tribute to those artists who came before him by continuing their work making the blues as vital in the 21st Century as it was in the 20th.