In the liner notes to his latest album, Jim Byrnes writes about how he soaked up the blues while growing up in St. Louis - seeing the likes of Jimmy Reed and Howling Wolf, later playing with Furry Lewis and Henry Townshend. The music obviously inhabited him deeply - and vice versa. While Byrnes went on to become an actor of note, perhaps best known for his role as "Lifeguard" on the great '80s TV series Wiseguy, the raspy-voiced singer and guitarist also became a superb roots musician.
Working again with producer and multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson, Byrnes once more crafts an absorbing and highly entertaining personal vision out of topflight original songs and covers that meld blues, country, gospel, and jazz. Sometimes, he and Dawson come up with inspired rearrangements - Robert Johnson's "From Four Till Late," for instance, gets a jaunty, Dixieland-ish makeover with banjo, slide guitar, and horns - and sometimes they stick close to the originals, as on Reed's "Take Out Some Insurance on Me." Overall, the results are comfortably familiar yet thrillingly fresh. Quite a trick.