I must confess that after buying one of his very early albums on vinyl (just as that format all but disappeared, a long time back before the recent unexpected revival) this artist disappeared totally from my consciousness. All the more pleasant then to discover that Colin James has not only been busy in the intervening years making high-quality albums but that he is also a really wonderful guitar player with a rich, varied singing style. You can’t keep track of everything of course but it feels like I’ve been missing out on a good thing, particularly as this is the guitarist’s 20th studio album. “Open Road”, the artist’s latest offering has been on heavy rotation in the last couple of weeks and is going to be right up there as one of the blues albums of the year.
Bluesdoodles rating: 5 Doodle Paws – a stupendous album. This is simply a superb set of stylishly played numbers that will appeal to any fans of electric urban blues, especially those who appreciate exceptional guitar playing. An unexpected pleasure to review.
The 13 track collection kicks off with a cover of Tony Joe White’s “As The Crow Flies”, which has a different feel to the original but doesn’t go down the complete re-invention route taken by Rory Gallagher. This starts deceptively with a dobro to the fore before the drums kick in and a busy pace is set, with some sharp chords punctuating the lyrics. Some delightful clean, fat soloing from the Canadian gives a taste of what follows.
“Can’t You See What You’re Doing to Me” is an Albert King cover and the guitarist burns on the sensuous guitar licks that run through this, played over a horn arrangement straight out of the Stax playbook and a bubbling guitar riff. The variety of guitar tones heard on this and other tracks is a feature of these songs and add to what is a pleasingly varied musical palette.
The cover of Magic Sam’s “That’s Why I’m Crying” is another superb take on a classic blues number, with a great vocal over the top of emotive Hammond chords and some very stylish guitar vamping. The title track has a melodic groove like an amped-up JJ Cale, with an acoustic slide and a fat-sounding guitar trading fills over the steady rolling beat. Delightful. It takes a brave man to cover a Stevie Ray Vaughan standard but James toured with SRV back in the day and has the chops and credibility to not only take on the Doyle Bramhall penned “Change It” but, with its slightly slower pace and retention of the Tex’ shuffle of the original, it may be slightly edging it.
“Leave This House” an original number, co-written with Tom Wilson, is a fabulous rocker with some excellent country guitar licks and fills. Otis Rush’s “It Takes Time” has an infectious beat driven by a swinging horn section and features some very fine harp playing and guitar playing straight out of the 50s. I could listen to this all day long. “There’s a Fire” sounds like it could have been recorded by Albert King in the late 60s but is actually a song written by James with Colin Linden in response to some of the incredible events of recent times that unfolded in the States while the latter-day Nero worked on his golf handicap and worked the angles to line his own pocket. Excellent covers of songs by Bob Dylan, John Lee Hooker and Otis Redding follow.
As The Crows Fly
Can’t See What You Are Doing To Me
That’s Why I’m Crying
Leave This House
It Takes Time
There’s A Fire
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
Down on The Bottom
I Love You More Than Words Can Say
Colin James: guitar, vocals
Chris Caddell – rhythm guitar
Simon Kendall & Jesse O’Brien: B3 Wizards + (JO’B on Piano)
Steve Marriner – Harmonica
Jerry Cook & Steve Hillian – Saxophone
Steve Pelletier & Norm Fisher: bass
Geoff Hicks: drums