Jim Byrnes is a triple threat, not just a singer-guitarist but an actor and writer as well. He penned and co-wrote only three songs on My Walking Stick, but they're all dynamite, especially Ol' Rattler. He's been around for a bit, so that grizzled photo on the cover isn't just the result of a make-up artist's attentions, and when he covers the work of others, the guy makes them his own, tipping in a multitude of side effects that are dazzling for their pull, as in the vocal harmonies and Louis Armstrong-ish scat, be-bop, and topside in the title cut.
Byrnes knows from class and reaches into several eras, melding them into a set of drop-dead tracks here, each one top-notch, even the Dion-ish Lookin' for a Love, a well-known ditty from past days. The trick is that he drags it in the dirt just a bit, underplays the doo-wop backing vox with a slide from Steve Dawson, and then adds a short spiky electric lead solo, courtesy of Lindsey Mitchell. Byrnes' voice throughout the release is a throaty growl even when he's crooning to Ophelia and singing of sundry other matters. Hell, there's more than few barks and yelps interspersing the gritty goings-on as well, and that's always a good thing.
This gruffly distinguished lookin' gent is a bit of a cowboy, and it's appropriate. He didn't miss the fact that Muddy Waters' muse was…yep, Gene Autry (and it took no less a personage than John Hammond to wrest that admission of inspiration from the esteemed old blues legend). Well, Byrnes is as barbed wire, high plains, and barroom brawly Out West as anyone with such a base, and the heat and dust of the Everyman's daily lot invade every cut on My Walking Stick. Nor, as noted, have the 50s and its antecedents been neglected, what with the constant presence of The Sojurners, a vocal trio, ushering a gospel and country-ish doo-wop presence into many cuts. Before the journey's over, you get a panoramic slide show crosscut of our wheatfield and breadbasket culture and the possibilities inherent in its arts.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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