Jim Byrnes to release ‘I Hear the Wind in the Wires’ on September 21

There’s nothing more powerful than a good song and nobody knows that better than Jim Byrnes. If a song is good enough, it can lift us up, bring us to tears or heal a broken heart. It’s something the St. Louis native learned many years ago when he picked up the blues guitar at age 13. So his decision to record an album of songs from the golden age of country music shouldn’t be all that surprising as he understands that there’s far less than a country mile separating Muddy Waters from Gene Autry. And as Jim loves to tell people, the blues great Johnny Shines put it all into perspective by saying that Robert Johnson was the best country singer he’d ever heard. I Hear the Wind in the Wires out September 21 on Black Hen Music, Byrnes celebrates the songs of Buck Owens, Ray Price, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins and other fathers of country music.

Since his first professional gig in 1964, he has had the great fortune to appear with a virtual who’s who of blues history – from Furry Lewis and Henry Townsend to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Taj Mahal, Robert Cray and so many others. Throughout his long career, even when he was acting in movies and on television series such as Wiseguy and Highlander, or giving voice to numerous cartoons – his passion for a good song has never left.

Byrnes moved to Vancouver in the mid-’70s, eventually leading him to Steve Dawson, a partnership that now stretches through five albums, 2 Juno Awards, a Maple Blues award and countless tours. This time around, he turns back the hands of time to take his listeners into the world of country music for tales of lawlessness and tender love, recklessness and yearning, and tough as nails characters with sentimental flaws. They sound like songs that Byrnes was born to sing. With his compatriot Dawson back in the saddle again as producer and multi-instrumentalist (electric and acoustic guitars, slide guitar, pedal steel, baritone guitar, banjo, ukulele), I Hear the Wind in the Wires is surely one of the most natural, satisfying and downright joyous albums of Byrnes’s lengthy career.

Not just any musician can feel music like this and bring it to life, so when Jim and Steve hunkered down with their vintage equipment and gear for a four day recording session at Bryan Adams’s Warehouse Studios in Vancouver, they brought the cream of the city’s players including John Reischman on mandolin (Jaybirds, Tony Rice Unit) and The Sojourners. There’s not a single note wasted as the ensemble sings and plays with an economy and intuition.

Whether Jim’s delivering a swinging, soulful take of Hank Williams’s “Honky Tonk Blues” in his best loping, old rake of a cowboy voice over a funky organ and pedal steel duet, or he’s getting down with a heartfelt interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Ribbon of Darkness” that gives new meaning to the expression “world-weary,” Byrnes and Dawson are firing on all cylinders from the first to the last note of I Hear the Wind in the Wires. As Byrnes remembers, “Man, this was such a great experience. Every night Steve and I were in the studio, we’d think of other songs we could do. This album just scratches the surface. This could easily be a six CD box set and we’d still have songs to burn.”

Take just one listen to Byrnes and Colleen Rennison of “No Sinner” rave their way through “Wild Mountain Berries” – the old Kenny Vernon and Lawanda Lindsey duet – before you hear him light into Little Willie John’s “Big Blue Diamonds” or nail a truly transcendent take of Nick Lowe’s “Sensitive Man” and you’ll be crossing your fingers and hoping that this is just the first of many such records and that box set Jim is talking about is just around the corner.

Watch Jim Byrnes perform Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries with Colleen Rennison of “No Sinner.”

Jim Byrnes