As he completes his seventh decade, actor and musician Jim Byrnes, releases a Blues covers album. This is the eleventh release of a fine career and seventh in partnership with long time collaborator, Steve Dawson.
Byrnes has been the recipient of several Canadian Blues awards and is rightly viewed as a legend in those parts. He has a US Passport but has resided north of the border for forty years. In a long career he’s sat in with Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Taj Mahal, which is evident by his feel, pace and touch on this record.
The album mainly sits astride Blues and Soul; as for Blues then we’re talking the Keb’ Mo’ and Robert Cray end of the spectrum. He has an expressive soulful voice with a laidback delivery. Armed with this instrument he says: “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”.
The record starts with one of the two originals “Step By Step”. In this song you’ll hear elements that elevate the album to feel good immediately such as The Sojourners (a three piece gospel group) backing him on vocals and the horns give a gentle Soul attack to the chorus. Next Byrnes applies his honeyed tones to a Soul interpretation of a classic Canadian song – “The Shape I’m In” by The Band. Along with the trio’s harmonies Steve Marriner’s harmonica adds embellishment to a faithful Levon Helm drum shuffle rhythm.
Bobby Marchan’s 1960 “Something On Your Mind” has exceptional pedigree. The Kings ( BB and Albert) and Etta James have their versions. On this we hear producer/guitarist, par excellence, Steve Dawson play beautifully whilst horns echo in the background. At the pace of the Mississippi in the Delta on a sweltering afternoon we have Willie Dixon’s “Weak Mind, Narrow Mind” and Danny Kirwin’s ‘Something Inside Of Me”. On the former, with a steel guitar and harp he’s a distance, with the band, from one live microphone and creates a haunting acoustic masterpiece. On the latter with a noticeably different arrangement we have Dawson and Marriner captivate with their playing.
Interesting arrangements, different paces, superb musicianship and a great song selection. This is a excellent collection. He has a simple philosophy: ‘tell a story and touch people’s hearts’. Mission accomplished.