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House of Refuge
Black Hen Music (2007)

House of Refuge Track Listing

  1. Didn't it Rain [mp3]
  2. Of Whom Shall I be Afraid
  3. Running out of Time
  4. Big Bill's Blues
  5. Lay Me Down Sweet Jesus
  6. Today
  7. Stardust
  8. Be Ready When He Comes
  9. The Death of Ernesto
  10. Last Fair Deal Gone Down
  11. Fortify Me
  12. The Beast in Me

Album Notes

On this Juno Award-winning release (again produced by Steve Dawson and released on Black Hen in June 2006), Jim dug deep into the traditions that have influenced the whole of his life. Growing up on the north side of St. Louis, Byrnes was surrounded by the likes of Chuck Berry, Johnny Johnson, and Ike and Tina Turner. Over the years Jim has appeared with a virtual who’s who of musical history including Furry Lewis, Henry Townsend, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Taj Mahal, Robert Cray, and Ray Charles. He has let this life wash over him and come up with perhaps the most inspired and soulful album of his already accomplished and storied career. This second collaboration with the Zubot & Dawson band is further enhanced by the soaring vocal harmonies of the gospel trio The Sojourners, all of whom continue to help Jim bring soul, intensity and total commitment to the music he loves.

Recorded and produced in Vancouver by another Juno Award winner Steve Dawson, “House of Refuge” is the follow up to 2004’s “Fresh Horses” and is much more than just a gospel tinged record. It is a twelve track long player of songs and stories of deep soul and faith all brought to breathe by a lust for life and a deference for death. Besides Byrnes and Dawson on guitars, the album features Jesse Zubot on fiddle and mandolin, Elliot Polsky on percussion and drums, Keith Lowe on double bass, Chris Gestrin on keyboard/organ/accordion and the gospel trio The Sojourners on vocals who are Marcus Mosely, Will Sanders, and Ron Small.

Starting with a stirring a capella section from The Sojourners, the traditional album opener “Didn’t It Rain” then launches into a powerful back beat of hope and salvation. This is quickly followed by two songs Byrnes penned when he was in Lithuania shooting the feature film Highlander - The Source. While the gorgeous “Of Whom Shall I Be Afraid” is a nod to the 27th Psalm, the slowly urgent death chaser “Running Out Of Time”, was written by Byrnes in the time it takes to sing it. Another Byrnes original, “The Death of Ernesto” was written in the middle of the night in the Utah Mountains after meeting Che Guevara in a dream. Whether it is the uplifting interpretation of the “Father Of Gospel” Thomas A. Dorsey’s “Today” or the ghost of legendary WLAC DJ John R in Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” or even Jim’s version of young Canadian songwriter Justin Rutledge’s “Lay Me Down Sweet Jesus”, this is not just a trip, it is a journey. When the bone chilling curtain call closer of Nick Lowe’s “The Beast In Me” comes to an end, “House of Refuge” is a journey you will want to trip through again and again.

What People Are Saying ...

"Jim Byrnes is a veritable national treasure, and if you like the blues you should know about him. Byrnes is a bluesman of the rarest variety, the type who doesn¹t need to plug in, rifle through solos or use a lot of flash and flare to make his point. Through 12 tracks he uses patience and restraint to create stunningly understated arrangements that hit right in the stomach and heart. Big Bill's Blues is a highlight, as is J.B.'s rendition of Robert Johnson's Last Fair Deal Gone Down. Essential."
Uptown (Winnipeg)

Throughout the album, Byrnes lays down a gospel blues sound, fueled by a powerful voice with just the right dose of rasp. Mixing solid originals like "Of Whom Shall I Be Afraid" and "Running Out of Time" with well-chosen covers like Robert Johnson's "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" and Nick Lowe's "The Beast in Me," Byrnes and an impressive band, led by producer/guitarist Steve Dawson, make you feel like you're a regular at a Deep South revival.
Vue Magazine (Edmonton)

"House Of Refuge is a heavenly album of gospel blues —an album celebrating and mourning life, finding redemption and healing in the act of living. But none of that would matter if Byrnes himself wasn't at the top of his game, singing every word, every breath as if he meant it and had lived it. And guess what? He has."
The Calgary Sun

"This is richly textured stuff from the Byrnes penned of "Of Whom Shall I Be Afraid" and the chilling "Running Out Of Time" to the deep groove of Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey's "Today". This is one fine record." Rating – A,
— The Province (Vancouver)

"A wincing God looks down at a crazy world and can't help but catch a case of the blues. He has no problems with Jim Byrnes, who sings tunes that are sacred and secular, side by side, in a voice that is worn, wise and sweater-comfortable. God forgot his galoshes, so on the fat backbeat of churchy traditional Didn't It Rain, heaven is raised—at least until the water lowers and the rainbow rises. On the jaunty, acoustic Big Bill's Blues, a pushed-down soul eventually gets up. Aided by the triumphant gospel trio the Sojourners and the chafed fiddle of Jesse Zubot, Byrnes does great songs of hope."
— The Globe And Mail (National)

"House of Refuge is a masterful mélange of folk, gospel, blues and roots that is gutsy, heartfelt and pure. Twisting and turning musical phrases a la Jeff Tweedy and/or Nick Drake, Byrnes has made a career out of spinning sin into salvation. By Grace alone, he has lived to tell and leads us to the Promised Land. Hallelujah! 4.5 stars."
— Notes From Underground (Halifax)

Jim Byrnes is one of the most soulful singers to ever call Vancouver home, but on his new gospel-blues release, House of Refuge, the veteran musician gets some pretty stiff competition from the Sojourners, aka vocalists Marcus Mosely, Will Sanders, and Ron Small. The trio performs on seven of the CD's 12 tracks and sets the tone for some seriously spiritual sounds... As well as straight-ahead gospel numbers ...Byrnes...offers the diehard blues freaks a treat with Robert Johnson's "Last Fair Deal Gone Down".
— The Georgia Straight (Vancouver)

Subtitled 'songs of hope and longing and sin and redemption' it is a pretty tall order to pull off given the breadth of focus but what Byrnes has in his favour is a voice that sounds like it saw creation and followed the devil down to hell. It is a voice that is tattooed with experience, a voice broken and reconstructed, deep and resonant with pea gravel rattling in his Adams apple. An enjoyable trawl through human failings, hope being the foremost amongst these.
— Americana UK (London)

Album Credits

Jim Byrnes - vocals, guitars
Steve Dawson - Weissenborn Hawaiian guitar, mandotar, tremelo guitar, acoustic guitar, National tricone guitar, etc.
Jesse Zobot - fiddle
Chris Gestrin - organ, pump organ, xylophone, Wurlitzer, piano
Keith Lowe- double bass
Elliot Polsky - drums and percussion
Jeanne Tolmie - background vocals (tracks 7, 9, 10)
The Sojourners (Marcus Moseley, Will Sanders and Ron Small) - background vocals (tracks 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12)