Sultry and Soulful St. Louis Blues From a Master Craftsman.
Way before you hear the music, and you will want to hear the music, you tend to get drawn into Jim Byrnes’ story. Began learning guitar in his early teens and still plays the same Gibson Hummingbird acoustic that he had then. At one point he was going to be a priest, and got as far as studying in a seminary and then for a short while was a professional shepherd, plus he is a talented actor and has appeared in Highlander and Wiseguy.
But music and in particular the Blues has clearly been in Jim Byrnes blood as it appears to be one of the constants in his life. This, his ninth album, has been produced with an ear to the slide playing of Sonny Landreth and the down home funk of Al Kooper.
There’s a few notable covers, four actually (The Band’s Shape I’m In, Bobby Bland’s Ain’t No Love in The Heart of The City, Wilson Pickett’s Ninety Nine and A Half Won’t Do and Percy Sledge’s Out of Left Field). It’s a measure of the assuredness of the band that he’s put together for this recording that even old chestnuts like these are not only listenable but, because of the work put into the arrangements, actually an actual pleasure. You’ve probably heard a dozen versions of each before and if you’re lucky, one or two might not have had you reaching for the skip button, but Byrnes versions are all nearly as good; as the originals just different. This band is cooking on all three rings!
Jim Byrnes’ voice has that road weary quality that ideally suits this material and I can’t help thinking of Leon Russell, Bonnie & Delaney and there’s even a bit of early Allmans in the mix too.
Step by Step is the opener and if you’ve a musical history stretching back to the early ‘70’s, this’ll be right up your boogaloo avenue. Instead of bashing out the same tired old blues rhythms that some of his contemporaries may rely on, Jim Byrnes has actually opted for a full-blooded attack on these songs.
There Is Something on Your Mind is a standout for me. I’m a sucker for a horn section and a Hammond B3 organ; think Wilson Pickett fronting Booker T’s MG’s and you will get the vibe. Stick those in the mix with some tasteful slide and funky chops and you can bet the neighbours will be listening to some good sounds tonight!
This is an album I’d probably have bought on the cover alone and I’d have been richly rewarded too.