Colin James has been around for over two decades now and yet for some reason – perhaps because he is a Canadian and profoundly unassuming – he is not nearly as well known as he could be. Musically speaking, he is a virtuoso blues/rock guitarist and songwriter and he’s shown himself to be equally at home in many different genres (including pop, rock, R &B as well as blues). In recent years he has made a well documented foray into jump-blues and has released three separate CDs devoted to his Little Big Band project. This was a huge risk commercially and certainly bewildered some fans at first, but in the end Colin has proved that his timing is excellent both in terms of public interest and taste. In short, once people got what he was doing they loved it!
I have seen Colin live many times, in many different incarnations, from blues festivals – where he is relentlessly enthusiastic and whips up the crowds with blistering guitar solos – to the more recent tour for Little Big Band 3 which was a completely different experience. Sleek, sophisticated tunes that still made you want to jump and shout (but in another way altogether) this concert showed that James’ fascination with swing/jump-blues music was not just a passing phase. There were vintage microphones on stage, the horn section was a vision of funky black clothing and dark shades and the whole night had a fabulous nostalgic feeling to it; and by this, I don’t mean old people’s Bingo evening at the legion hall (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but rather, a stiff dose of hep cat coolness for those who may have missed it (perhaps from not being born, the only reasonable excuse) the first time round.
Although some of the songs on Little Big Band 3 were written by himself and fellow musician/chum Craig Northey, Colin James really excels at choosing the best songs to cover when he isn’t doing his own stuff; he is especially careful to choose a song that is best suited to his vocal ability and range which is, by the way, superb. His voice has obviously changed throughout his more than two decade career but only for the better; though he started out with rock songs (Voodoo Thing, Just Came Back ) which were great tunes, he sounds much more self assured these days and more himself. The harder edged songs are still there but he has definitely mastered the art of substantial, intuitive emotion without ever approaching cheesiness or insincerity. One of my fav tracks and a good example of this on LBB 3 is If You Need Me often referred to by myself and friends as simply Track 13! It’s that great – universally recognized, (or at least in my circle!) as one of those songs you will hear something different in with subsequent listenings – and of course just gets programmed to ‘repeat.’ Intriguingly too, in spite of what you might think, this cd also gets a thumbs up with teenagers who increasingly consider this era a bit retro and want to know more about the music.
All this said in favour of Little Big Band which I truly love, it still remains to mention that Colin also does an unbelievable job with any blues number he performs and all the more so since blues was his sole musical interest for many years. At the age of eighteen he had already impressed his hero Stevie Ray Vaughan enough to become his opening act and shortly thereafter he was also opening for John Lee Hooker and Keith Richards. Early albums like National Steel, Bad Habits and Then Again are all really good choices for blues lovers unfamiliar with James. (He does a great Milk Cow Calf Blues and let’s not forget that this is the guy who brought another sampler of Robert Johnson to the masses with the beginning of Just Came Back). These are quality, timeless cds and showcase James’ exceptional playing and skill. If you want blues with sincerity, grit and intelligence all at the same time – Colin James is your man.
Buy Colin James & the Little Big Band 3 at Amazon.com