Jim Byrnes is best known as a blues performer, but I Hear the Wind in the Wires focuses primarily on country. The genres are not that far apart (fellow St. Louis product Chuck Berry drew inspiration from both; the Stones too), and Byrnes sounds completely at ease. All the songs here are covers, and most are vintage, like Hank Williams’s “Honky Tonk Blues”, but there’s also more contemporary material, such as Tom Waits’s “House Where Nobody Lives”.
As the inclusion of songwriters like Waits, outlaw balladeer Marty Robbins, and veteran folkie Gordon Lightfoot indicates, Byrnes takes a broad view of country, and there aren’t many big hats in sight. The musical continuity is provided by Steve Dawson on guitars, Chris Gestrin on keyboards, Geoff Hicks on drums, and Rob Becker on bass. This core band, supplemented by a few guests, plays superbly, never attracting too much attention but giving the songs drive and rich instrumental harmonies. Dawson’s pedal-steel guitar is outstanding, weaving sensitively around Byrnes’s gravel-edged vocals and cleverly nuanced phrasing. With Byrnes singing long-time favourite songs backed by his friends, the album has a tangible warmth and sense of fun.