Although I tend to lean more towards Byrnes’ blues-y side, I realize that’s what many must have said when Ray
Charles ventured into country music. While none are in the class of Brother Ray, the comparison isn’t far-fetched. Jim Byrnes grew up in St. Louis listening to his mother’s record collection, including Ella Fitzgerald, the Mills Brothers, Louis Armstrong and Glenn Miller, right through to Ray Charles, who Byrnes even met several times. Throughout Byrnes’ discography, he has fused together blues, country, gospel and R&B, so hearing him delve into the golden age of country isn’t a revelation. The best singers are versatile, and Byrnes’ prowess shines through, especially when he’s paired with talented producer and string virtuoso Steve Dawson.
Familiar names abound here, including Hank Snow, Ray Price, Hank Williams and even Dolly Parton. Dawson, Byrnes and fellow players handle these tunes effortlessly. As Byrnes says, “Man, this was such a great experience. Every night Steve and I were in the studio, we’d think of other songs we could do. This album just scratches the surface. ” As evidence, check out “Big Iron” and “Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries.” We’re already anticipating the next country album.