Archive for the ‘Jim Byrnes’ Tag

Jim Byrnes and Jeff Morris reviews   Leave a comment

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


Central Music Festival ’10 Red Deer, AB August 14, 2010   Leave a comment

The second day of the 2010 edition of the Central Music Festival did not hold the excitement of the previous evening. While the weather was outstanding and the lineup significant- headlined by a rising country star from Central Alberta, Shane Yellowbird- overall the day suffered from a certain mediocrity. While truly presenting a catholic menagerie of approaches and styles, the afternoon lineup did little to build momentum toward evening.

While individual tastes and impressions are, well… individual, the only act heard before 5:00 that significantly moved the audience appeared to be Edmonton’s Black Pioneer Heritage Singers. This seven-piece gospel outfit, with percussion communicating almost as much as the voices, shared a musical tradition going back scores of year. Stellar vocal arrangements infused with equal parts of spirit and sass brought Big Choir to the concert bowl. Familiar gospel numbers including “Keep Your Hand on the Plough” were performed. Forget every white bread sing-a-long of “Put Your Hand in the Hand” you’ve ever heard; BLHS delivered southern-styled soul in their interpretation and Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” was similarly remade.

As impressive as the group’s two female, two male vocal lineup is, nothing prepared us for the addition of Agnes Brown to the proceedings. Considered the group’s matriarch, this queen of gospel shook and stomped in her ministry. With four voices harmonizing with the obviously active senior, one could be forgiven for feeling as if they were in a community church somewhere much further south. “Ain’t That Something to Talk About,” indeed! Frailing on the banjo, Ms. Brown led her younger disciples through several songs including “The Resurrection Song” which led into “There Ain’t No Grave That Can Hold My Body Down.”

Without a doubt, the highlight of Day 2 happened early.

We snuck out for a quick run home, but I returned just as local group Oldbury were finishing their set; from all appearances, they worked the assembled audience into a bit of a frenzy. U22 participant Lucas Chaisson- heard previously at Canmore- has the Brett Dennan-thing down, and while his songs belay his youth the boy does have promising talent. However, I’m pretty sure I don’t need to hear “Man in the Mirror” again; I continually get horrid mental pictures of images in the mirror’s background.

Perhaps Canada’s finest interpreter of traditional blues, Jim Byrnes laidback music was nearly perfect for early evening. Accompanied by the ubiquitous Steve Dawson- previously heard this summer in a Mississippi Sheik tribute in Calgary and with The Sojourners in Canmore- Byrnes didn’t break any new ground despite performing a couple numbers from his upcoming release. In fact, the most recent song performed through the 75-minute set was a gorgeous take of “Just Like Tom Thumb Blues.” Bookending that Dylan number were a couple songs each from Jimmy Reed, The Sheiks, and Robert Johnson including “Take Out Some Insurance,” “Bootlegger’s Blues,” and “From Four ‘Til Late.” The stories Byrnes shared added to the set.

Allow me a moment to sing the praises of Steve Dawson. Not only can the guy play anything- and make it sound great- but he has great vision and ably operates a label while producing seemingly non-stop. Not only in Red Deer yesterday, but whenever heard he is likely at his best providing electric (even when acoustic, as on Saturday) leads to those he chooses to support.  While he and Byrnes were consistently  impressive, I was especially impressed by the bottleneck slide work Dawson added to “Bootlegger’s Blues.”

Jenny Allen performed a set that was just the right length. At turns heated and powerful, the Calgarian is imminently personable. Janis Ian’s “From Me to You” was given an ideal and memorable reading but this did not overwhelm Allen’s own pieces including “A Beautiful Mess” and other songs of miserably failed relationships. Like Dar Williams, Allen has the ability to soften her message with lightheartedness.

For those of us concerned about sameness bred of acoustic earnestness throughout much of the day, Ponty Bone and the Squeezetones put an end to all that. The accordion veteran and his four-piece outfit brought a steamin’ pile o’ San Antonio to us and garnished it with a slice of Louisiana. Blaze Foley’s “Ain’t Got No Sweet Thing” was a highlight of a set that may have suffered from its own type of sameness for listeners, but seemed to please the dancers in every way. “Baby, You Know,” “Castle Blues,” “Bon Temps Rouler,” and “Lucille” kept the area in front of the stage swaying and jumping.

But Ponty Bone- listen to the stage manager next time- it appeared he stormed through the signals to wrap the set that were obvious to everyone else.

Chris LeBlanc brought his deep, Maritime voice as the evening moved toward closure. Holding his own with only his guitar and songs like “Two Lane Road,” “Set My Heart on Fire” (with the excellent lyric “the flames flickered in her eyes”) and “Two Hearts, Four Wheels,” LeBlanc brought modern, traditional-based country music to the stage. Lightening the mood with “Arrest Me,” LeBlanc played the majority of his Too Much Nothin’ album; like me, most of the audience seemed unfamiliar with the New Brunswicker, but his calm, mature manner seemed to keep folks listening. Numbers like “Little Brick Bungalow”- reflecting on living within one’s means- reminded me of why I enjoyed listening to commercial country music in 1992.

Once Shane Yellowbird hit the stage with his beer garden-country, it was time for me to head for home. Nothing against the fellow, but that style of Tim McGraw modern country leaves me cold.

Overall, a very nice day and a half. Lots of different sounds, but unlike larger festivals where one can seek out music closer to one’s interest, at the single-stage Central Music Fest one has to take what comes. While this can expose one to music that may be surprising- Lucas Chaisson, Lisa Heinrichs, or Jenny Allen, for example- one does need to exercise patience to endure things of much less interest.

Still, a good vibe. The audience appeared to be- for the most part- there for the music and was quite appreciative. The vendors were well-stocked and the prices- for the most part- avoided the gouging that is common at some music festivals; I’ll pay $5 for a serving of butter chicken or curry and rice anytime. Excellent sightlines, lots of clean port-a-potties…and with an emphasis on Alberta music, who can complain too loudly?

We’ll be back, I do believe.

 But I didn’t win the Steve Coffey painting!

Jim Byrnes- My Walking Stick   Leave a comment

Originally published in the Red Deer Advocate July 3 2009

Jim Byrnes

My Walking Stick

Black Hen

Over the past several years, Vancouver’s Black Hen Music label has established itself as the premier western roots imprint. From adventurous string music to blues and gospel, the Steve Dawson-headed outlet has produced an unbroken string of exquisite, challenging releases.

Jim Byrnes, elder statesman of the West Coast blues community, delivers an album of incredible quality. I first heard Byrnes almost thirty years ago, and didn’t quite know what to make of him then. Fortunately, my ears have caught up and I can now appreciate his assured, efficient vocal approach.

 The album includes a few Byrnes originals including the satisfying opener Ol’ Rattler; like many of the tunes, this one has a 60s Muscle Shoals-vibe with what could be Hammond B3 floating about the melody. The Band’s Ophelia has its tempo taken down a notch, and the effect simmers. Oh Susanna’s Three Shots– similar in theme to Stagger Lee– is the album’s centerpiece and is imminently memorable.

Black Hen-mates The Sojourners lend the album a soulful presence, with deep rhythm & blues harmony and background vocals. Their contributions make songs memorable and intensely appealing.

Producer Dawson is very hands-on and features his guitar talents on all cuts. Additionally, the album package is artful, with time-tinged photos housed in a digipak. All together, a class set and one should feel comfortable investing in such a project.

 Likely found in the Blues section of shops, the album retains a roots aesthetic that defies narrow genre-labeling.