Colin James – Open Road
Stony Plain Records – 2021
13 tracks; 53.48 minutes
Colin James remains stubbornly under the radar, despite having produced a succession of fine albums since his debut in the early 90’s; perhaps it’s because he is Canadian or that the sheer variety of his output has made him hard to pigeon-hole. Whatever the reason, those of us ‘in the know’ recognize his many talents and look forward to every album with unbridled enthusiasm! On this one, like so many others, Covid intervened and some of the parts had to be recorded remotely, but the overall sound is excellent, so the sound engineers, Colin and co-producer Dave Meszaros have all done an outstanding job. Colin leads on vocals and guitar (of which more later), with a core band of Geoff Hicks on drums, Norm Fisher on bass and Simon Kendall on keys; additional musicians include Steve Marriner (harp on one track), Chris Caddell (rhythm guitar on two), Steve Pelletier (bass on one), Colin Linden (slide guitar on one), Craig Northey (guitar/vocal on one), Jesse O’Brien (piano on one), Jerry Cook (baritone sax on two) and Steve Hilliam (tenor and baritone sax on three). The material includes four of Colin’s originals, each co-written by one of Linden, Northey or Tom Wilson, the remaining tracks coming from a wide variety of sources.
The album kicks off with a run of three covers, each very different in style. Tony Joe White’s “When The Crow Flies” is a familiar song, often played in acoustic style, but Colin’s band give us a full band version, albeit including dobro, though Colin’s solos are full-blooded electric. We then get an Albert King tune, “Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me”, with saxes beefing up the sound to provide an outstanding version, Chris Caddell playing the rhythm parts, allowing Colin to concentrate on the lead role, really bending the strings in AK style. The quiet desperation of Magic Sam’s “That’s Why I’m Crying” puts Colin’s fine vocals right up front, though his guitar work is again superb, subtle and entirely fitting the lyrics of the song. The first original is the title track, “Open Road”, a track with a hint of Americana as Colin overdubs dobro, acoustic and electric parts as he explores getting back to playing live after the Covid hiatus. Some impressive, searing guitar on this one!
Colin got his initial break supporting Stevie Ray Vaughan, so it is quite appropriate for him to cover “Change It”, the song that Doyle Bramhall wrote for Stevie after he managed to get over his addictions; Colin does a good job and includes some chunky riffs along the way. “Raging River” is another original, Colin Linden sitting in to add his slide to Colin’s on a song they co-wrote, a quiet interlude between “Change It” and the next cut,“When I Leave This House”, a pedal-to-the-metal tune with Jesse’s rocking piano featured and Colin tearing it up in Chuck Berry style. Next up is Otis Rush’s “It Takes Time” for which the horns return and Steve Marriner’s harp adds to the Chicago feel as Colin reels off some more impressive stuff on guitar. The final original is the second by the two Colins, “There’s A Fire”, Colin’s guitar work again impressing in classic slow blues style.
The last fur cuts are all covers and two come from Dylan. First up is the familiar “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”, given an upbeat, swinging, country feel with Colin’s slide in the lead, supported by the horns. John Lee Hooker’s “Bad Boy” sounds pretty authentic with minimal rhythm section and Colin’s slide work overdubbed on top of acoustic guitar. The second Dylan cover is an obscure tune which I confess to never having heard before, “Down On The Bottom”, but it’s a good track with a strong chorus and lots of great guitars. The final track is another obscurity, “I Love You More Than Words Can Say”; written by Eddie Floyd and Booker T Jones for Otis Redding. No horns in Colin’s yearning version, but a soul ballad in classic Stax style with lovely sentiments.
Throughout these thirteen tracks Colin again shows that he is a fine singer and guitarist who can turn his hand to a range of styles. If you are unfamiliar with Colin I suggest you check out some of his previous albums which include excursions into Jump Blues, Americana and acoustic styles; meanwhile do listen to Open Road, it’s a terrific album.