Album: Jim Byrnes, My Walking Stick (Black Hen Music)

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The Independent Culture

Canadian bluesman Jim Byrnes cites the approach of the pre-blues "songster" tradition – in which the blues would be but one part of a repertoire that also encompassed gospel spirituals, country, folk and popular songs – as indicative of his intentions on his own albums.

That's certainly the case with 'My Walking Stick', which includes covers of cult gospel songwriter Washington Phillips's "What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?" and Irving Berlin's title-track – transformed into a languid blues croon with violin and jazz guitar – alongside predominantly blues and soul material. The album also features the gentle gospel backing vocals of the Sojourners throughout, tinting even the most secular song with a churchy flavour, most notably on a slow, bluesy version of the Band's "Ophelia". Elsewhere, there are creditable covers of "Drown in My Own Tears" and "Lookin' for a Love", soul hits for Otis Redding and Bobby Womack respectively, while Homer Banks's "I'm Living off the Love You Give" is done Little Feat-style, with light-fingered slide guitar from producer Steve Dawson, whose guitar licks also lighten up "Ol' Rattler", the best of Byrnes's own compositions here. But it's Byrnes's voice, a grainy, weathered instrument, that gives these interpretations the authentic sepia timbre of experience.

Download this: 'Ol' Rattler', 'Lookin' for a Love', 'Ophelia', 'I'm Living off the Love You Give'

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