Every now and then, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear a voice that changes the way you think about music. It’s that rare kind of voice that can take you out of yourself to a place where a song that you’ve heard a thousand times becomes brand new again. Jim Byrnes’ voice has that quality, and even though he’s been winning over audiences with his soulful vocals for more than fifty years now, he’s never sung like he does on ‘Long Hot Summer Days’, his newest album on Black Hen Music.
At age sixty-nine, Jim Byrnes has recorded a career milestone, which, given his history with numerous Juno Awards and Maple Blues Awards, among many other accolades, is saying a lot. But, if you listen just once through ‘Long Hot Summer Days’, it’s easy to be convinced that there simply isn’t anyone alive today who loves a good song more than Jim does. It’s an amazing thing to hear a performer who, well into the fifth decade of his career, the veteran of thousands of live performances and dozens of recording sessions, continues to approach creating a new album with the dedication and enthusiasm of a twenty year old.
Jim has collaborated on 7 album releases now with Steve Dawson, the award winning guitarist and producer. It’s a partnership that had its genesis in 2004 when Jim and Steve got together to record the critically acclaimed ‘Fresh Horses’. Since then, they have played countless shows and sessions together across Canada and around the world.
‘Long Hot Summer Days’ is an album that reflects everything that Byrnes looks for in a song. As he points out; “Most blues fans are on the lookout for the sound of a tasty blues guitar, but for me what makes or breaks a song is the singer.” As anyone who’s ever heard him before can attest, Jim’s always been an exceptional vocalist, but for this album he wanted to take his performances to another level. Byrnes explains, “All of the singers I’ve ever loved have known when to hold back. I’ve finally learned to work with restraint, and that if you don’t throw it all out at your audience, you can work with what you don’t reveal. And, sometimes what you can suggest without actually singing it overtly gets pretty interesting. I think with this record, I’ve finally learned to sound like myself.”
With a love of music as vast as Jim’s, it’s not surprising that ‘Long Hot Summer Days’ covers a lot of territory. From the spare and haunting rendition of Willie Dixon’s ‘Weak Brain, Narrow Mind’ captured to tape with one microphone 30 feet away, to the rich full band sound of ‘Ninety-Nine And A Half’, ‘Long Hot Summer Days’ is a master class of song interpretation.
When Steve and Jim began to choose songs for ‘Long Hot Summer Days’, Jim kept circling back to things he first heard on the radio while driving around his native St. Louis during his high school days. On the top of his list was ‘Something On Your Mind,’ a soul hit by Bobby Marchan. ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’ recalls the relaxed, assured style of Bobby Bland, and Jim’s interpretation of ‘Out Of Left Field’ would do Percy Sledge proud. For blues purists, there is a riveting single-take version of Elmore James’ ‘Something Inside of Me’ that should put to rest any doubts that Steve Dawson is one of Canada’s greatest guitarists.
Two original songs co-written by Jim and Steve - the sultry Nina Simone-influenced title track, ‘Long Hot Summer Days’ and the delightful Van Morrison-style groove of ‘Deep Blue Sea’ - are rounded out by a Dawson original, the rollicking ‘Anywhere the Wind Blows’.
Understandably, there aren’t many musicians capable of rising to the demands set by the music chosen for ‘Long Hot Summer Days.’ So, it was a very special group that came together at The Warehouse Studio in Vancouver to record for a week last spring; Steve Dawson (guitars), Chris Gestrin (keyboards), Geoff Hicks (drums), Jeremy Holmes (bass), and a horn section containing some of Vancouver’s finest – Malcolm Aiken, Jerry Cook and Dominic Conway. Guest appearances by The Sojourners on harmony vocals and Monkeyjunk’s Steve Marriner on the harmonica, virtually guaranteed that a very special recording was in the works.
Steve Dawson has always been an innovative producer, and for this project he decided to record Sinatra-style with all of the musicians in the same room, facing each other without headphones on. This allowed the musicians to hear each other naturally and play at a lower volume. This made it possible to pull richer tones out of the instruments, giving the whole album a warm, vintage sound.
Warm and weathered. Soaring and bright. ‘Long Hot Summer Days’ is a masterwork from one of Canada’s best-loved musical icons. Records like this don’t come around every day. Listen and be taken away.
April 26, 27 - White Rock, BC - Blue Frog Studios
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