Jim Byrnes House of Refuge

Jim Byrnes House of Refuge
Vancouver based ex-pat American Jim Byrnes hasn’t been prolific since his 1981 debut, but what he lacks in volume he makes up for in quality. House of Refuge is his fifth recording and picks up where 2004’s Fresh Horses left off. Byrnes continues exploring Southern music (he grew up in St. Louis), this time with an emphasis on gospel. The album opener, "Didn’t It Rain,” a traditional song of salvation, has stirring back-up vocals by the Sojourners, who feature on six tracks. His covers are eclectic, ranging from a playful update of Hoagy Carmichael’s "Stardust,” to a gloomy version of Nick Lowe’s "The Beast in Me” and "Lay Me Down Sweet Jesus” by Canadian songwriter Justin Rutledge. Byrnes sings with a care-worn voice, full of power, imbuing the songs soulful lyrics with the sound of experience and wisdom. His singing really stands out on two originals: the blues-y "Running Out of Time,” living each word he sings, and the reggae-tinged "The Death of Ernesto Guevera,” where his curiosity sets an ironic tone. Producer Steve Dawson (of Zubot & Dawson) is back and that’s a good thing — the sound is crisp, like an old-fashioned Southern soul recording, set firmly in contemporary times with its quirky arrangements and spacious vibe. Dawson’s feedback-laden intro to Thomas A. Dorsey’s gospel standard "Today” takes the song to a higher plane its writer never imagined. (Black Hen)