Jim Byrnes

Everywhere West

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In collaboration with producer/multi-instrumentalist Steve Dawson, Canadian blues legend Jim Byrnes achieves an interesting mix of rural and urban styles on Everywhere West. Actually, although Byrnes is indeed one of the most beloved figures on the Canadian blues scene, he hails from St. Louis, where his love for the blues was nurtured from an early age by seeing such greats as Jimmy Reed and Bobby "Blue" Bland on-stage. Byrnes tackles tunes associated with both of those blues giants on Everywhere West, as well as songs by Robert Johnson, Lowell Fulson, Louis Jordan, and others, but he also adds a more personal perspective to the album by contributing a trio of his own compositions. The most immediately striking thing about Everywhere West is the way Dawson's arrangements toss down-home touches like banjo, mandolin, and fiddle in among the very uptown-sounding organ riffs and rhythm section. One of the more memorable examples of this ear-catching juxtaposition is Byrnes' version of "Yield Not to Temptation," previously recorded by Bobby "Blue" Bland, where the banjo picks out a Big Joe Williams-like figure over a decidedly contemporary sonic framework, achieving an almost Tom Waits-like effect in the process. Throughout the album, the mixing and matching of unexpected elements, from Dixieland horn blasts to sharp, stinging electric guitar leads, keep things from ever falling into cliché territory -- no mean feat on a modern-day blues record. At the center of it all, of course, is Byrnes' big, warm voice, whose touches of rumble and rasp are occasionally evocative of prime Joe Cocker, though Byrnes is never imitative of any other vocalist. He rides these tunes just right, with a perfect balance of passion and restraint -- a winning combination in a bluesman of any era.

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