Artist: Colin James
Album: Blue Highways
Label: True North Records
Release Date: 10/14/2016
American blues originators were always welcome in Canada, and I would guess that many of them looked forward to playing there in the absence of the segregation and racial atmosphere they found here in the states. Along the way, our American artists inspired many Canadians who can today point to thriving blues scenes in western Canada, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. Vancouver-based Colin James stands as tall as any Canadian blues artist, having won a staggering 17 Maple Blues Awards and six Juno Awards. He has done these kinds of tributes to his major blues influences as early as 1988 with his self-titled debut. This is his 18th album.
While cover and/or tribute albums don’t always thrill this writer, one can’t help but be impressed with the versatility of James’ guitar work here as he covers Texas blues, Chicago Blues, soul and acoustic Delta blues. He even covers Peter Green. In fact, that cover and the more relatively obscure ones like “Goin’Away”( James A. Lane), “Lonesome” (Peter Chatman) and “Ain’t Long for Day” (Blind Willie McTell) are preferable to the too often covered “Going Down” and ”Don’t Miss Your Water,” as they give far fewer reference points for the listener. James’ slide work, both electric and acoustic on “Big Road Blues,” “Goin’ Away” and “Ain’t Long for a Day” as well as his acoustic picking on “Bad, Bad, Whiskey” and Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal” are the real standouts here. The electric work is technically fine, but not as compelling. James brings aboard some of Vancouver’s top musicians including Colleen Rennison of No Sinner for background vocals on to tracks and Monkey Junk’s front man, harmonica player Steve Mariner, on five tracks. It’s just Mariner and James on the Howlin’ Wolf/Jimmy Reed medley “Riding in the Moonlight/Mr. Luck.” And, with full band, as on most cuts, they deliver an up tempo, somewhat unique rendering of Junior Wells’ “Hoodoo Man Blues.”
Call James Canada’s Blues Ambassador and give him kudos for, in his own words, keeping it live, simple and traditional. Let’s add respectful to that group of adjectives too. If James influences you enough to listen to the originals of these masters, he’s done a good job. I’m reaching for Howlin’ Wolf now.