Jim Byrnes recently won the Maple Blues Award as “Male Vocalist of the Year.” With this album, however, Byrnes pays tribute to his St. Louis roots, where he was born and raised. It’s a chance to salute to the blues music and musicians that influenced him during his youth.

St. Louis Times, the new CD from blues/roots artist Jim Byrnes, is a thoroughly enjoyable listen, thanks especially to the wonderful mix of songs and the expert way that Byrnes treats each one. The album is loaded with originals… and originality when it comes to the classics. What better way for Jim Byrnes to pay tribute to the strong influences of his formative years as a musician than this completely charming and accessible collection?

Byrnes pays musical tribute to such St. Louis icons as Chuck Berry, Albert King, Little Milton and “Stump” Johnson, Lonnie Johnson and W.C. Handy. With such a great collection of blues and bluesmen, the album includes a variety of styles that covers time and the intersection of the muddy Missouri and the mighty Mississippi. The album also features four original songs co-written by Byrnes and Black Hen Music label owner, Steve Dawson. These tracks place Byrne squarely in St. Louis in his own time in the continuum of the city’s musical heritage. One of the songs, “I Need A Change,” is particularly effective at making it clear that Byrnes has as much passion as ever.

The album features a special guest appearance by his longtime friend, the legendary John Hammond, whose vocal, harmonica and guitar talent is displayed on four of the album’s tracks. Canadian blues artist Colin James also contributes to a jangly, oh-so-right rendition of Little Milton’s “That Will Never Do.”

Byrnes is an artist with depth and intensity. He has that “been there, done that, have to sing a song about it” quality that makes the blues a genre that never gets old. He has a voice you trust and a guitar technique that trusts itself. Maybe it’s a St. Louis thing. Whatever it is, Byrnes makes it all his own, and it’s swell.