Jim Byrnes doesn't just sing the blues. He emulates them. A dedicated diehard, he claims to have been a devotee since his mid-teens, when he and a pal would make regular trips to a seedy club on the opposite side of the city to catch visiting Bluesmen like Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Albert King and a host of others that made his hometown of St. Louis a regular stomping ground.
The Vietnam War found Byrnes escaping to Canada and undertaking an acting career, but in recent years, the blues has been his muse and he's released several albums reflecting his infatuation with the form. This latest effort finds veteran producer Steve Dawson at the helm as he plows through a disparate array of blues variations, from the gritty sway of "Hot as a Pistol" and the brassy flourish of "Black Nights" to the jaunty "Walk On" and a plucky "Bootlegger's Blues." In fact, it's that versatility that sets Everywhere West apart, specifically Byrnes' ability to mine so many different shades of blues from such a singular genre. His take on Robert Johnson's oft-reprised "From Four Until Late" turns the tune into an upbeat vamp, complete with Dixie-style horns and a celebratory shout-out that would befit a Vaudeville stage show. Likewise, his version of the reflective "He Was a Friend of Mine," famously reworked by the Byrds in the wake of JFK's assassination, reverts back to the original intent under the weight of Byrnes' weary rendition, and, as a result, mines the remorse all the more effectively. Likewise, when he applies a sassy attitude to "Take Out Some Insurance On Me" and "You Can't Get That Stuff No More," a knowing wink and nod help assert authenticity.
Ultimately, it's the final offering, Byrnes' reflective "Me and Piney Brown," that gives his musical connection a context and puts his inspiration into perspective. Just as it sharpens the focus it confirms his credibility.