Blues & Rhythm

Jim Byrnes was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1948. He grew up on the city’s north side, where one of the neighbourhood bars had Ike and Tina Turner as the house band. As a teenager going out to clubs, he and his buddy were often the only white people in the place. Starting piano at age five, by age thirteen, Jim was singing and playing blues guitar. His first professional gig was in the summer of 1964. Byrnes moved to Vancouver, British Columbia in the mid-1970s after years of drifting, working odd jobs and playing music. Over the years, he has had the great good fortune to appear with a virtual who’s who of blues history, from Furry Lewis and Henry Townsend to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Taj Mahal, Robert Cray and many others.

This new release on the Canadian Black Hen label came as a very pleasant surprise, maybe it’s not 100% blues, but the blues element is very strong. Jim Byrnes has a lived in, world weary, honey drippin’ voice, and certainly hits the nail on the head here. Standouts are the opening cut, the brass-laced original, ‘Hot As A Pistol’; Bobby Bland’s anthem, ‘Yield Not To Temptation’ (comp. Deadric Malone, although here it is credited to Ralph Bass and Sonny Thompson), done country funk style featuring Steve Dawson on banjo; and a rip-roaring, good timey ‘Bootlegger’s Blues’. Lowell Fulson’s ‘Black Nights’ is very tasty with Steve Dawson providing the shimmering slide guitar.

The spirit of string bands like the Mississippi Sheiks is the driving force behind ‘No Mail Blues’ (although that man Dawson again does throw in a Duane Eddy inspired electric guitar riff). With trumpet and saxes, ‘From Four Until Late’ gears up for a small group New Orleans style brass band blast, and a blast it is, completely out of left field, a winner all the way. Next up is Jimmy Reed’s ‘Take Out Some Insurance On Me’ with Keith Bennett providing the atmospheric harp. ‘You Can’t Get That Stuff No More’ is credited to Louis Jordan and Sam Theard, but I think the culprit should be Mr. Tampa Red. However, with Steve Dawson playing the Tampa Red guitar part on a National Tricone, Daniel Lapp on trumpet, and although it’s not listed, what sounds like a tuba, it’s a very acceptable version. Last but not least, ‘Me And Piney Brown’ is, to quote the press release, and I can’t think of a better way to describe it, ‘an autobiographical dream tune evoking an imaginary journey to Kansas City’, conjuring up the spirit of Big Joe Turner and other KC luminaries. A very pleasant listen, maybe not for the diehard blues fan, but recommended to all lovers of Americana, allied to some very classy musicianship, particularly from the multi-talented Steve Dawson (he also produced).

As a footnote of no special importance ‘Yield Not To Temptation’ features Dawson on something called a Marxophone, which prompted the question what the f*** is a Marxophone? Well, according to Wikipedia it is ‘A fretless zither that has four sets of chord strings strummed with the left hand and two octaves of double melody strings which are struck by metal hammers activated by the right hand. The hammers are mounted on spring steel and produce a mandolin-like sound from repeated bouncing on the strings, hence the name mandolin-guitar-zither sometimes applied to the Marxophone. So now we know.