Friday, November 5, 2021

Colin James - Open Road

There’s a lot to like in Colin James’ latest album Open Road.  On every song the feel is good, the playing is good, and the production is good.  I just have this nagging feeling that over the piece I should enjoy the album as a whole more than I do.  How come?  Let’s see if I can explain.
The album opens with 'Open Road' itself, a loping tune with sparkles of guitar over a grooving bass line, while James deploys an understated, rhythmic vocal to deliver atmospheric lyrics about every life being an open road.  It’s got a swampy vibe, with some buzzing guitar breaks bringing added edge.  That’s followed up a cover of Tony Joe White’s ‘As The Crow Flies’ that
Colin James - guitarist photographed without guitar shocker
Pic by J O'Mara
starts out with some retro-sounding steely guitar picking, before upping the ante with some punched out, gritty chords, while James’ lead guitar echoes the melody.
Then there’s the impressive slow blues of ‘That’s Why I’m Crying’, on which subtle guitar and shades or organ are interlaced with a convincing, soulful vocal.  It’s kept simple, relying on feeling not fireworks, and works a treat.  As does, in a different way, the following funky cover of Otis Rush’s ‘It Takes Time’, a danceable affair with walking bass, sharp injections of horns, and a nifty harp solo from Steve Marriner.
All that makes for a strong, satisfying opening, and on its own terms the following slowie ‘Down On The Bottom’ continues the streak, at times reminiscent of the Black Crowes, especially in James’ singing.  It’s evocative, with strong guitar licks bouncing off the vocal, and an intense closing solo.  Thing is, it also starts a run of four successive tracks that are all, in their own ways, slow to mid-tempo.  Of these, a cover of Otis Redding’s ‘I Love You More Than Words Can Say’ can’t match the aching simplicity of the original, while the ‘Stormy Monday’-style slow blues of ‘There’s A Fire’ is well-executed but a tad predictable. And if the spiky, discordant riff brings a bit of edge to the brooding ‘Change It’, it’s still a mid-tempo tune that feels a mite too comfortable to shake things up.
All of which makes the central core of the album sag a bit – and too much to recover the momentum right away with the relaxed, low-key boogie of Dylan’s ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’.  And for all that Albert King’s ‘Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me’ has an appealing, bobbing and weaving riff, underpinned by bubbling bass and snapping drums, it too is in a middling tempo.
Happily, the following ‘Bad Boy’ and ‘Raging River’ go down some different avenues, even if they don’t apply much pedal to the metal.  The former is an old-fashioned blues, with prickling and scraping slide guitar over a minimalist, dragging beat, and the latter ventures in the direction of ‘Bad Company’, by the band of that name, with its weeping guitar sound and “out on the prairie under the stars” vibe.  Which just leaves ‘When I Leave This House’ – which is, praise be, a slice of upbeat boogie!  Okay, so it doesn’t kick your ass like Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘The House Is A’ Rockin’’, but it does generate a good-time, dancin’ shoes mood.
So you see, taken individually all of the 13 songs here are good – a few of them very much so.  I enjoyed Open Road, and if Colin James had saved two or three of these tunes for another day, trimming its 54 minutes and creating a better stylistic balance between light and shade, I’d have enjoyed it even more.

Open Road is out now on Stony Plain Records.

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