Living Blues

Musician-actor Jim Byrnes' latest release is an emotional and spiritual "reunion" with his hometown of St. Louis. The disc's most surprising, and perhaps best cut is The Journey Home, a spoken-word piece that finds Byrnes remembering the sights and sounds of his childhood-a train, The St. Louis Cardinals, voices of family members-before taking the listener on a "river tour" down the mighty Mississippi, past Memphis to New Orleans and out into the Gulf of Mexico. The lyrics signify an origin point and dispersal outward, mirroring Byrnes' own life, while the title suggests the opposite-he is coming back home to tell a story about one of the birthplaces/homes of the blues. Mixing originals and covers, St. Louis Times is, for the most part, thematically consistent. His excellent version of W.C. Handy's St. Louis Blues is the most obvious choice here. Less obvious are his nods to other St. Louis music natives (e.g. Chuck Berry's Nadine, James "Stump" Johnson's The Duck's Yas Yas Yas). Besides The Journey home, Byrnes' own compositions reflect on his childhood, the misadventures of love, and the need for personal change. Musically, St. Louis Times is fairly eclectic-blues (I Get Evil), rock (Nadine), soul (I Need A Change), and jazz (Cake Alley). Byrnes is a strong vocalist who moves comfortably from genre to genre without sounding contrived or forced. The band is strong and tight too. Steve Dawson plays tasteful slide guitar throughout St. Louis Times, especially on the final cut, Lonnie Johnson's Another Night to Cry. He also employs effects, such as delay, to create mood and ambiance, especially on The Journey Home and Old Dog, New Tricks. Horn arrangements, which appear frequently throughout, add rather than clutter the songs. Byrnes' old friend John Hammond chipped in (harmonica, guitar, vocals) on a few selected cuts, and the sound of a female voice, Colleen Rennison (You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone) is welcome and adds to the disc's multidimensional listening experience. St. Louis Times is solid and smart.

Year: 
2014