Canadian singer, songwriter, and guitarist Colin James has an impeccable career. He has over 30 years of countless albums and awards as well as many successful collaborations, including partnerships with high-caliber musicians such as Keith Richards, Lenny Kravitz, Carlos Santana, and Buddy Guy. Last November, James released his twentieth studio album, Open Road. We couldn’t pay enough attention to its release at the time, but an album of this quality cannot go without coverage. It’s time to revisit it and spread the gospel of great music.
The songs in Open Road, several covers, and some originals, are brought to life by James’ fine voice and powerful guitar, but also by his talented backing band. Bassists Steve Pelletier and Norm Fisher, organists Simon Kendall and Jesse O’Brien, drummer Geoff Hicks, and rhythm guitarist Chris Caddell provide the wind so James can fly gracefully. Additional personnel includes Stever Marriner on harmonica and Jesse O’Brien on piano as well as saxophonists Jerry Cook and Steve Hilliam. Before moving on, it is also worth mentioning the great work of producer Dave Meszaros. The album, mixed at London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios, boasts exceptional audio quality.
Comprised of 13 tracks, Open Road is an album deeply rooted in the blues and Americana tradition but made bigger by its rock elements. This is strikingly evident in the very first track. “As The Crow Flies”, a Tony Joe White original composition, starts off as a laid-back blues tune until James unleashes the fire of his guitar chops. After that, the song gains in intensity and ends with a masterful solo. The second track is a cover of a Stax-era Albert King number, “Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me”. The track captures the essence of the original song and simultaneously brings a modern flavor, thanks mainly to the attack and the full-bodied tone that James’ guitar has. Furthermore, the horn section pays natural homage to the Memphis Horns, but also to the big bands’ sound of the 20s. In short, an interesting and remarkable cut.
The title track is a pure original Americana composition, both musically and lyrically. Featuring an iconic chorus and warm, inspiring lead guitar melodies, the song conjures up images of big, vast countryside landscapes. A prime example of James’ superb songwriting skills. Another great, albeit darker, original Americana composition is “Raging River”. The acoustic and very atmospheric track features the album’s best vocal performance and comes a little close to the sound of the southern gothic genre. Other highlights include the uptempo, Chuck Berry-inspired shuffle “Leave This House” and the soul-stirrer slow blues “There’s A Fire”, the final original track in the album.
Familiar yet refreshing, Open Road is definitely one of the best releases of Colin James’ brilliant career. Definitely, it is also a great option for those who want to start a new year with great, heartening music.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– As The Crow Flies
– Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me
– Open Road
– Raging River
– Leave This House
– It Takes Time
The Big Hit
– Open Road