Jim Byrnes was born in St. Louis, Missouri - that’s blues country. He grew up on the city’s north side. One of the neighborhood bars had Ike and Tina Turner as the house band. As a teenager going to music clubs, he and his buddy were often the only white people in the place. ‘We never had any problems. We were too naïve, and had too much respect for the music and culture - they knew it; they could tell.” So reveals the website of Jim Byrnes, a musical veteran who, for half a century (his first professional gig was in 1964), has been keeping the blues alive. Before releasing his eighth album this year, he has earned copious accolades in Canada. Several are JUNO victories and nominations, Maple Blues Awards, and Western Canadian Music Awards. This reviewer can honestly say his music sounds far closer to traditional American blues than many of his contemporaries. “St. Louis Times,” subtitled “Songs From and About St. Louis”, features twelve pristine selections - four originals and eight covers (naturally including W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues”.)
Performing with Byrnes are John Hammond on harmonica, Steve Dawson on slide guitar, organist Darryl Havers, bassist Jeremy Holmes, and drummer Geoff Hicks. Also featured is a big-band horn section arranged by Jim Hoke. Of Byrnes’ original songs, these three sizzle:
Track 02: “Somebody Lied” - In the title, the “somebody” is our narrator’s wandering lover, and this indefinite pronoun is used to accuse without directly accusing. “I went to ask your mother, ‘What’s the matter with that girl? Why’s she spending all her time out on the evening world? She said, ‘You both have talked about her staying right by my side. I do believe somebody lied.” Steve Dawson’s gritty guitar solo and John Hammond’s spicy harmonica are hot highlights.
Track 04: “Old Dog, New Tricks” - Clarinet player Tom Colclough guest-stars on this jazzy song with a laid-back feel. It’s a tribute to human ingenuity and perseverance: “Remember hope doth spring eternal deep inside the human breast, and though the torments seem infernal, we just have to stand the test.” Steve Dawson plays pedal-steel guitar, and Darryl Havers a Wurlitzer organ.
Track 10: “I Need A Change” - What are the blues about, if not moving on and moving forward? Byrnes begins by describing his former innocence, when “love was a virtue time could not destroy.” However, he realizes that since then, “something’s gone wrong” with life. What’s the remedy? “Lord, I need a change - a change in the way I am living, a different way to feel. A change in the way I perceive this old world, oh, I need something that’s real.” Who among us has never had that feeling? Jim Hoke, trombonist Bill Huber, and trumpeter Steve Herman provide a poignant background notes.
Get ready for fantastic “St. Louis Times” with Jim Byrnes!!