Though 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 Darryl Havers on keyboards, Jeremy Holmes on bass and Geoff Hicks on drums. John Hammond (a long-time friend of Byrnes) guests on four selections addint 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 Wheetstraw and Lonnie Johnson along with four Byrnes/Dawson originals with the performances ranging fro 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 unusual 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 Wheetstraw's on "Cake Alley" where he employs the Devil's Son-In-Law's "oh well well" vocal embellishent. Tom Colclough plays some fine clarinet on Handy's famous number along with Dawson's fine National slide guitar to suport Byrnes off-the-beat vocal. The originals are solid tunes with the exception of "The Journey Home" with his 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.
An affectionate salute to this home town, Jim Byrnes' "St. Louis Times" delights with his heartfelt, and fresh renditions of some vintage blues and some originals. The varied settings add to the enjoyment of the congenial performances on this engaging CD.