We all have one or two artists who are in our peripheral vision. We have heard of them, can probably sing along to their bigger hits, and know we would enjoy their tunes if we put a bit of effort into it. Colin James was that guy for me until hearing him perform live at the National Arts Centre in the nation’s capital on a cold Tuesday night in February.
A good ole Canadian boy from Regina who had his first big break opening for Stevie Ray Vaughan as a kid, James is mainly known as a gritty blues/rock guitar man, but he is also a talented singer, songwriter, and producer who has won 6 Juno awards over his impressive career. Some of the loyal fans I spoke to before the doors opened referred to James as someone who covers Van Morrison better than Van himself (just listen to his rendition of Into the Mystic), and while performing can be caught looking down at his guitar with a face that makes you think that he himself can’t believe what he can do with that thing.
I also ran into avid fans of the local band Monkeyjunk who opened the show. The trio who are named after a quote by bluesman Son House “I’m talkin about the blues, I ain’t talking bout no monkeyjunk”, have been gaining momentum on both the local and national scenes, being nominated twice for Juno awards and winning an impressive 20 Maple Blues Awards. Their sound was raw and emotional, like gospel music without the religion or the church. Song after song, the crowd was loving their vibe and cheered loudly when they mentioned getting their start at Irene’s on Bank, a local live music institution.
Anticipation built during the intermission and James more than delivered once he and his band took to the stage, which was simple and designed to let the music do the talking. As soon as the spotlight hit the frontman, the crowd in the grand and always impressive Southam Hall roared. James seemed genuinely speechless as he thanked them for the warm welcome. With that, we were off to the races and it was a wild, surprisingly soulful ride.
With his 18th album Blue Highways, James and his band paid tribute to some of their blues heroes by laying down swampy, stick to your bones tracks such as the lead single Going Down inspired by the influential Freddie King and Muddy Waters’ slow and loose Gypsy Woman. Hearing these talented musicians play live transported us all from the ice storm outside to a hot lazy summer evening on a porch in Mississippi, letting the bass and guitar riffs seep into our bodies, into our bones.
I am so very thankful to have been re-introduced to this artist, brought him out of the shadows and into my line of sight. Blue Highways has been playing in my house non-stop and I have recommended it to friends who are also loving it. If you are able to catch him live, you won’t regret a minute of it. James embarked on his 21-date Canadian tour beginning in early February in Belleville, ON and will be wrapping things up on March 8, 2017 in Vancouver.
Renée Doiron / Tour Bus Entertainment