Jim Byrnes soaked in the blues in St. Louis as an adolescent but has lived in Vancouver ever since he returned as a Vietnam vet. With thirteen years or so of a partnership with master guitarist and producer Steve Dawson, Long Hot Summer Days is their seventh album together. While Byrnes may be a relatively obscure name here in the States, he has won countless Juno and Maples Blues Awards in Canada. On this effort they’ve augmented Dawson’s many guitars by including horns on many tracks with vocal assists from The Sojourners, Vancouver’s gospel trio. MonkeyJunk’s front man, Steve Marriner adds harmonica to several tracks. Label Owner Dawson is a guitarist/producer who should be in the same conversation with peers Buddy Miller, Will Kimbrough, and Luther Dickinson. Like them, he gathers great session musicians, and, like them, he has some fine albums of his own.
Stylistically the album is like Byrnes’ 2014 release St. Louis Times but the scope of the material is a bit wider. Byrnes went back to songs he heard on the radio while in high school in St. Louis. On the top of this list was “Something On Your Mind,” a soul hit by Bobby Marchan. He channels Bobby Blue Bland through “In the Heart of the City” and interestingly the Dan Penn/ Linden Oldman “Out of Left Field” a tune which also appeared on Gregg Allman’s Southern Blood. Pure blues covers from Elmore James and Willie Dixon are in the mix as well as “The Shape I’m In’’ from The Band, “Step by Step” from Jesse Winchester, and “Everybody Knows” from Leonard Cohen. Dawson and Byrnes penned a few originals as well. Throughout, Byrnes’ bluesy gospel relaxed voice is riveting, embellished by the Sojourners on harmonies and the four-piece band augmented often by a three-piece horn section.
Byrnes, the superb vocalist, dug down even deeper this time around. At age 69, Byrnes has been singing for over 50 years but feels he brought fresh energy to this project. “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. I think with this record, I’ve finally learned to sound like myself.”
Byrnes may well be the best vocalist many of you have never heard. For him to admit that he has never sung like this, makes this offering that much more special. His voice will touch your soul.