St. Louis Times (Black Hen Music) may be Jim Byrnes’ most personal record yet. Loaded with songs associated with artists based in the city along with his own compositions which recall his younger days there, the disc serves as a sound musical journey through a city that often gets overlooked in blues discussions. The city is celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, so the disc serves as a fine introduction to this often-overlooked musical hub.
St. Louis Times is the sixth collaboration between Byrnes and Steve Dawson, a partnership that has lasted ten years. Byrnes is also joined by guests John Hammond, who plays National Steel and harmonica on a couple of tracks and joins Byrnes on vocals for James “Stump” Johnson’s “Duck’s Yas Yas Yas,” Colin James, who contributes acoustic guitar on one track, and No Sinner’s Colleen Rennison, who shares vocals duties with Byrnes on the old Fontella Bass/Bobby McLure hit, “You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone).”
Byrnes’ choice of cover material is first-rate, with the aforementioned songs, plus tunes from Albert King (“Don’t You Lie To Me”), Chuck Berry (a funky version of “Nadine”), W.C. Handy (the title track), Little Milton (“That Will Never Do”), and Lonnie Johnson (“Another Night To Cry”). Byrnes’ own tracks recall his formative years in the city with a song about one of the more notorious neighborhoods (“Cake Alley”), a nice slow blues (“Old Dog, New Tricks”), and a vivid picture of the town (“The Journey Home”).
Byrnes does a great job on vocals and guitar, and Dawson and Hammond both contribute some wonderful slide guitar on multiple tracks. The remainder of the band is rock solid in support, with Darryl Havers on keyboards, Jeremy Holmes on bass, and Geoff Hicks on drums, with a marvelous horn section that includes Tom Colclough (clarinet), Jim Hoke (tenor sax), Bill Huber (trombone), Steve Herman (trumpet), and Larry Paxton (Sousaphone).
St. Louis Times is not only Jim Byrnes’ most personal recording, it’s also his best. He really seems to be firing on all cylinders with this one, maybe because it hits so close to home, literally. Whatever the reasons, this should be essential listening to blues and roots fans.