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The Wiseguy Blues Guy

April 24, 2016

Musical Moonlighting, for Most

 

Actors who become singers — we all know the story, huh? Quite often, when an actor achieves a certain level of notoriety—and gathers subsequent wealth—the temptation to blow some cash on studio time, some expensive session musos and put out an album is immense.

 

And the results can expose some harsh truths, particularly the one that says, ‘stick to your day job’. The production is usually world-class, as is the band. But the weakest link is often the star spearheading and financing the project. And the summary of its parts only add up to thirty-odd foot of well, you know what.

 

But there are exceptions. I have recently (re-)discovered singer and guitarist Jim Byrnes, and his album ‘St Louis Times’. The name wasn’t familiar to me at first, but hey, his music sounded wonderful upon a Spotify stumbling session. He’s a master blues musician and singer.

 

I of course did some research, and whaddya know? He’s an actor. And I kinda already knew it.

 

Gettin' Wise in the 80s 

 

Remember the late 80s TV show ‘Wiseguy’? You may remember Jim as Daniel Burroughs, otherwise known as ‘Lifeguard’, the back-to-base intelligence support guy to the undercover mobster-nabbing Wiseguy himself Vinnie Terranova (Ken Wahl). The show was also considered to be Kevin Spacey’s big break (as Mel Profitt). From a musical composition enthusiast’s point of view, the program is also notable for yet another distinctly Mike Post Mike Post intro theme. Also, for those IMDb TV geeks, Jim Byrnes was also in the cult 90s hit ‘The Highlander’, among a long list of other productions.

 

A Quiet Veteran

 

In contrast to those who act and then sing, by several accounts, Byrnes has been a musician for as long, if not longer, than he’s been an actor. St Louis-born, but a long-time resident of Vancouver, Byrnes understands American musical tradition. And you can hear it in his musical approach.

 

The album ‘St Louis Times’ is a musical trip from where the Missouri and Mississippi meet to the rest of the US’s bluesiest geographical corners. It is also a tribute to his birth town’s musical greats who either spent a good amount if time there or grew up there, with covers of tunes by Chuck Berry (Nadine), Albert King (I Get Evil), James ‘Stump’ Johnson (The Duck’s Yas Yas Yas).

 

The musicianship from the backing band is superb, notably producer/guitarist Steve Dawson on all manner of tone-rich guitars — pedal steel, baritone, slide, National tricone and acoustic guitar. The rhythm section is tight without being sterile, with everyone tastefully contributing to the whole picture without stealing the limelight away from Byrne’s well-oiled yet raunchy Dr John-esque voice and phrasing.

 

One standout track is “You’ll Miss Me”, a southern soul-influenced duet that features actress/singer Colleen Rennison, a 27-year-old Canadian who sounds as seasoned as a singer who has at least a couple more decades of performance and life experience under her belt. And Rennison proves further that not all actors treat the music game as a mere vanity project.

 

Jim Byrnes has also won the Juno award for Best Blues Album three times, and has a back catalogue of ten albums to date. Check out 'Another Night to Cry':

 

 

 

‘St Louis Times’ is available through record label Black Hen Music’s website and Amazon.

 

 

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