Jim Byrnes and Jeff Morris reviews

Jim Byrnes's Juno Award-winnning album- Blues Album of the Year

238 columns, somewhere around 500 albums and even more live shows, with today’s column Roots Music has been promoting my kind of music in Central Alberta for 10 years.

I’ve made mistakes, I’ve made a couple enemies, and I’ve fostered connections I would never have experienced otherwise. Some labels have disappeared while others remain viable. The landscape of the music business has changed greatly in a decade. What has remained solid is the core of devoted musicians and artists, publisists and label owners, and local promoters who see the importance of supporting and advancing the cause of roots music. I’ve been glad to be part of it, in my small way, for a decade. Let’s keep it going!

In today’s column I advance a few December shows and feature albums from Jim Byrnes and Jeff Morris, an Alberta musician and songwriter. I still remember the day in 1983 when I almost cracked Jim Byrnes’ debut album Burning, an album I only finally heard this past week. I was at Climax Records in Leduc, a store that gave me my first volunteer record store job. The store’s owner had fallen behind in payments to his distributor and the company had come in and taken over the shop. For some reason, they hired me to assist in running the shop and for a few staggering months of independence, I had my run of the place, not really having any clue as to what I was doing but having a heck of a time doing it.

For some reason, Burning drew my attention one day as I was unpacking a shipment and I almost slit it open to give it a listen, but got distracted by something else- How might the course of my music listening changed had I succumbed to the temptation to open that Polydor album years ago. Hopefully you’ll find something of interest.

Roots music column, originally published December 3, 2010 in the Red Deer Advocate

With this column, Roots Music marks 10 years on these pages. The area roots music scene has ebbed and flowed during the past decade, with local venues for live music coming and going in equal measure. The environment remains quite healthy with touring musicians and locals alike finding outlets for their sounds.

Jeff Morris Original Songs on a Borrowed Guitar Self-released

Hailing from Sherwood Park, Jeff Morris’s debut album is a pleasant, unexpected surprise.

An intimate recording with unobtrusive, vibrant support, comparisons to Jack Johnson are a bit too apparent- Morris’s voice has an inflective catch that is similar to the surfing guitarist, and he favours gentle introspective pieces that examine feelings and relationships. Okay, sometimes the obvious tract is entirely justified.

Morris’s guitar playing isn’t primitive but neither is it overly elaborate. Sparse strumming and delicately picked notes provide the canvas against which Morris constructs his uncomplicated rhymes and reflections. Especially appealing is the percussive element of his playing, obvious on tracks including the standout Hold On.

Blue Sky Falls is another song that captures the imagination: one is drawn into the impassioned possibilities suggested.

This recording captures not only listeners’ attention but their intellect and soul. Coffeehouse music that doesn’t slink into the background as much as it enfolds with comfort and warmth-think Dan Mangan crossed with Brett Dennam, perhaps.

2010 has been a very good year for Alberta roots recording artists. Add Original Songs on a Borrowed Guitar to the list of standouts.

Jim Byrnes Everywhere West Black Hen Music

British Columbia-based for thirty-plus years, Missouri native Jim Byrnes sings the blues with relaxed confidence, leaving no room for over-emoting or grandiose showmanship. Simply put, Byrnes is the real deal, bridging the distance of decades and space between childhood heroes like Big Joe Turner and his west coast home.

I’ve listened to Byrnes’ most recent recordings with growing admiration, and his performance at August’s Central Music Festival- where many of the tracks included here were previewed- was exceptional.

Amongst Everywhere West’s dozen tracks are a handful of fresh, original tunes from Byrnes and compatriot-producer Steve Dawson. The majority of the material comes from a previous time and place: Bootlegger Blues from the Mississippi Sheiks, Take Out Some Insurance On Me from Jimmy Reed, and He Was A Friend of Mine and No Mail Blues from the folk tradition.

Purists may not appreciate the New Orleans overtones inserted into the lively reimagining of Robert Johnson’s From Four Until Late, but one can’t argue that the tune positively shimmies. Obvious is the reverence Byrnes has for his material, as well as the enjoyment he takes from playing and singing these songs.

The four fresh tunes are all impressive with Dawson’s Walk On providing a showcase for the album’s resident band. Byrnes’s Me and Piney Brown takes us back to the 30s to explore a world that existed before his youthful excursions scouting the nightclubs of Missouri.

As he sings in the old Louis Jordan tune, You Can’t Get that Stuff No More. But for 50-plus minutes, Byrnes makes a solid argument that he is willing to bring blues songs to a contemporary audience without sacrificing the soul rooted within each number.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- Donald

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