While living in Canada for a number of years, Jim Byrnes grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and his new CD, St. Louis Times (Black Hen) is a salute to the blues music and artists who influenced him during his youth and adulthood. Subtitled Songs From and About St. Louis, this recording provides his take on music from such St. Louis icons as Chuck Berry, Albert King, Little Milton and “Stump” Johnson, as well as the likes of Lonnie Johnson and W.C. Handy, and several originals by Byrnes and producer Steve Dawson. In addition to the vocals and guitar of Byrnes and Dawson’s guitar, Dawson brought together a rhythm section of Daryl Havers on keyboards, Jeremy Holmes on bass and Geoff Hicks on drums. John Hammond ( a long-time friend of Byrnes) guests on four selections adding harmonica to three selections, slide guitar to one and shares a vocal on one, while Colleen Rennison shares the vocal on one selection.
The material includes songs associated with Albert King, Little Milton, Fontella Bass and Bobby McClure, Chuck Berry, W.C. Handy, Peetie Wheatstraw and Lonnie Johnson along with four Byrnes / Dawson originals with the performances ranging from pretty straight renditions of Albert King’s I Get Evil and the Bass/McClure You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone), to the traditional jazz inflections added to James ‘Stump’ Johnson’s The Duck Yas Yas Yas, St. Louis Blues, and Wheatstraw’s recording of Cake Alley. Dawson’s use of pedal steel adds an usual flavor to the cover of Chuck Berry’s Nadine, while Little Milton’s That Will Never Do is rendered in a somewhat austere stripped down setting.
Byrnes’ grainy vocals appeal with their sincerity and natural, thick molasses delivery helped by the understated backing from the rhythm section. He delivers the lyrics in an unforced matter, often with a bit of humor as on his duet with Hammond on The Duck Yas Yas Yas, with some nice clarinet from Jim Hoke and trumpet by Steve Herrman. He displays the most urgency on the duet with Rennison on You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone), while indicating a touch of Peetie Wheatstraw’s on Cake Alley where he employs the Devil’s Son-In-Law’s “oh well well” vocal embellishment. Tom Colclough plays the fine the clarinet on Handy’s famous St. Louis Blues, along with Dawson’s fine National slide guitar to support Byrnes of-the-beat vocal. The originals are solid tunes with The Journey Home being exceptional with recollections of the Mississippi, listening to the Dodgers and the Cardinals over the radio, and the Illinois Central trains with Dawson’s telling guitar responses to the latter.
An affectionate salute to his home town, Jim Byrnes St. Louis Times delights with his heartfelt, and fresh, renditions of some vintage blues and originals The varied settings add to the listening enjoyment of the amiable performances on this engaging CD.