Born and raised in St. Louis, Jim Byrnes has an intimate knowledge of the city’s proud musical heritage. He sings about his childhood neighborhood, other decaying neighborhoods, and performs versions of songs written by some of his favorite St. Louis musicians such as Chuck Berry, Stump Johnson, Albert King, and W.C. Handy. This is a very personal album for Byrnes, who said, “These songs represent a snapshot of what I heard growing up in St. Louis.”
Jim Byrnes’ St. Louis Times, on Black Hen Music, has a lot going for it. It is produced by Steve Dawson, who has worked with Byrnes on several albums now. The mix and sound quality is very good; crisp, clean, and clear. The core band consists of Steve Dawson on guitars, Jeremy Holmes on bass, and Geoff hicks on drums. Darryl Havers does a superb job on keyboards throughout.
The really cool thing about this album is that if we close our eyes and just listen, we are instantly carried away to Blues City Deli, a favorite local spot for live music. The entire album has a very unhurried, laid back, live groove to it, which suits Byrnes’ vocals just fine. The band is relaxed, and grooving perfectly. All this is not to say that the album has no pulse; quite the contrary. Every note played on this album is right where it belongs, and each performance comes together perfectly.
A solid album all the way through, there are cuts we found especially appealing. The opener, “I Get Evil” (“Don’t You Lie To Me”) features smart and elegant guitar from Byrnes and Dawson, along with John Hammond on harmonica. Chuck Berry’s “Nadine” gets a flavorful laid back New Orleans treatment here and it works well, with Havers lending wonderful Wurlitzer lines that provide just the right touch. “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone” has a great soul/gospel flavor to it courtesy of the solid church choir style vocals, and Havers’ lead organ solo. W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” also gets a sublime New Orleans treatment here, resulting in a slow, rich, moving performance with a touch of whimsy, courtesy of Tom Colclough’s clarinet.
This album charms listeners, who will find it very inviting. It’s easy on the ears, and tastefully performed. Take it for a spin soon.