When FabricationsHQ reviewed High Temperature by JW-Jones earlier in the year, I opened by stating there must be some sort of blues infused tonic in the Canada Dry Ginger Ale going by the quality of Maple Leaf musos currently catching the attention in the multi-faceted blues scene, including Matt Anderson (Honest Man), Colin James (a rare but welcome appearance in the UK in acoustic support to Beth Hart), Steve Hill (Solo Recordings Volume 3), the aforementioned JW-Jones and now, as the year rocks and rolls toward its end, Jim Byrnes.
That might seem a tenuous link given that the veteran folk-blues singer was born and bred in St. Louis, Missouri, but Jim Byrnes relocated to Vancouver BC in the mid-70s, formed a band there in 1981 and made his love of the blues his career priority (Byrnes has also had many a TV and movie role as an actor).
Since that relocation he has gone on to pick up numerous Maple Blues, Juno and Canadian Folk music awards for both his smoky, blues-soaked vocal work and a number of his albums. In short, Vancouver and Canada have adopted Jim Byrnes as one of their own.
And with Long Hot Summer Days it’s hard to see (or rather hear) how those awards won’t keep coming for Jim Byrnes and another excellent and fruitful partnership with award winning producer & musician Steve Dawson.
This time around the Byrnes voice - Dawson production pairing started by choosing a small selection of blues or R&B styled songs that reflected what a youthful Byrnes was listening to back in his St. Louis days; they have also taken a number of later 60s and 70s numbers that fit that same earlier-era profile.
The results are a warm and inviting covers album (completed by two Byrnes-Dawson tunes including the sultry, blues-hazed title track and a Dawson original, the acoustically led 'Anywhere the Wind Blows') that is, without musical question, a career highlight for the now sixty-nine year old singer and guitarist.
Jesse Winchester’s 'Step By Step' opens the album, the 1976 number rearranged to capture a more 60s affected feel and featuring both a horn section and chain-gang styled harmonies from The Sojourners (the harmony trio are a recurring and welcome backing vocal theme throughout).
The Band’s 'The Shape I’m In' then softly shuffles through in a relaxed and effective manner before a wonderful Gospel meets pedal steel country interpretation of 'Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City' makes its not insignificant mark.
Other highlights include two riveting got-the-blues moments in the shape of a one-take recording of the Elmore James classic 'Something Inside Of Me' (with crying in sympathy solos from the guitar of Steve Dawson and guest harmonica player Steve Mariner) and a rootsy folk rendition of Willie Dixon’s 'Weak Brain, Narrow Mind,' which echoes hauntingly through its one microphone thirty feet away recording capture.
Mention of some of the recording techniques incorporated on Long Hot Summer Days leads to an honourable nod for the sound of the album, as much a factor in its success as the songs and the musicianship.
Steve Dawson’s decision to have all the musicians in the same room, playing across, with, and off of each other (sans headphones), was inspired. The results? Less volume, more tonal clarity and subtly shaded instrumentation.
The album may be called Long Hot Summer Days – but this is laid back blues and R&B for any season, or any era.