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Colin James Colin James
Album: Miles To Go
Label: North
Tracks: 12

This stylish new release from Canadian bluesman Colin James oozes class right from the off. Bass, drums and wailing harmonica explode into the mix, before organ and horns settle us into the blues-funk opener, a contemporary take on Muddy Waters' 'One More Mile'.

James has assembled a first-class band to match his talent, based around a superbly economical drummer, Geoff Hicks and fluid and evocative bassist Steve Pelletier. The understanding between the band members is uncanny, and speaks of many thousands of miles on the road together.

James wisely allows his virtuosity to be part of a greater whole, ripping off blistering solos only when context permits. He sings with affection and subtlety, no overblown bombast, the curse of the genre, here.

Another Waters' number, 'Still a Fool', follows; a slow and sleazy blues of betrayal and lust, Steve Marriner's excellent harmonica combining with the sensuality if James' of axe work.

A follow up to 2016's breakthrough, Blue Highways, this album comprises ten beautifully crafted contemporary takes on classic blues, with two originals. That relative success has enabled him to re-acquire the classic Gibson ED-335 he sold for rent money years ago, and to go into the studio with his well-honed touring band, the cream of local musicians, to craft an album of homage and rediscovery.

The mood mellows out on 'Black Knight', as Chris Gestrin's piano leads us into a slow blues, Simon Kendall's Hammond sparse and effective; bass perfectly dragging along with the beat. Not a note is out of place, as James's world-weary vocal is underpinned by his bubbling guitar, authentic and evocative.

His subtle style sits somewhere between the crisp finger picking of Mark Knopfler and the fluidity of Jo Bonamassa or Robert Cray, although it is perhaps better to say that all stand on the shoulders of the same giants.

The album is nicely composed, and plays well as a whole, without ever straying too far from the familiar chord shapes and modes of the blues.

James has been an underground phenomena in his native Canada for some years, bucking all trends and attempts to squash him into narrow commercial boxes, scoring triple platinum for a big band release as far back as 1993, before heading to stripped back takes on classic blues and a spell as an acoustic bluesman, busking on whatever stage or street corner he could find.

Which is how the album closes, with an acoustic version of the opener, 'One more Mile', guitar, lead and backing vocals, powerful and evocative.

James and his band continues to tour regularly in his native Canada but, sadly, the are no European dates on his website.

A look into the heart of a musician that lives, breaths and sweats the blues.

Laura Thomas