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. So, this project has been in the making for some time – “Songs from and about St. Louis”. Many anniversaries mark this issue: 250th of the founding of St. Louis, 100th of the song, “St. Louis Blues”, and ten years of a partnership with master guitarist Steve Dawson. Here, they’ve augmented Dawson’s killer slide guitar by including horns (tubas and clarinet too) on many tracks. Jim duets raucously with No Sinner’s Colleen Dennison on the Fontella Bass hit, “You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone)”. Long-time friend John Hammond lends harmonica, vocals, and National steel to four tracks.
While Johnny Copeland may have the best version of “St. Louis Blues” on his first Rounder release, Copeland Special, Byrnes’ version, with just tuba and clarinet instead of a full horn section, is very era-appropriate with a quicker tempo. The album perfectly reflects that mixture of blues and jazz that permeates so many of the city’s tunes from the early and middle parts of the last century. His spoken word piece, “The Journey Home” adds even more authenticity. With a few originals, his superb vocals cover the St.Louis icons from Albert King, to Chuck Berry, to W.C. Handy, to Lonnie Johnson and more. It’s carefully chosen, impeccably rendered, sumptuous material – perhaps the best Jim Byrnes record yet.
– Jim Hynes