Colin James – Miles to Go (Stony Plain)
Canadian guitarist Colin James had a breakout hit album with his last release, 2016’s Blue Highways. And, while I liked that album, I think his brand-new record, Miles to Go, is better in every way, and should earn James another truckload of accolades.
First, the tracks on this new album just sound bigger. The playing is tighter – he’s kept the same guys intact for some time now and their playing has definitely gelled. The guitar is grittier (there is a picture of a Sears-Roebuck Silvertone on the inner sleeve, and it don’t get any more grittier than that!). James’ singing, while always decent, seems to have taken on a more assured quality.
The record begins with a pair of Muddy Waters’ covers – the tightly-wound groove of “One More Mile” and the incendiary “Still a Fool,” which features some of the nastiest guitar tone I’ve heard in awhile.
One of the traits of a good blues record is diversity, and things switch gears for the gentle funk of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “Dig Myself a Hole,” which features some tasty slide guitar. Another highlight is the late-night blues of “Black Night.”
As on Blue Highways, James manages to grab lesser-known blues tracks, like a jumpin’ rendition on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Ooh Baby Hold Me,” and the back porch reading of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man.” So, it’s surprising that tucked right in the middle of the album are a pair of songs written by James, the moody “I Will Remain” and the churning “40 Light Years.” These two fit perfectly in the running order – you’d think they were just a few more obscure nuggets.
I really like his take on “I Need Your Love So Bad,” originally made famous by Little Willie John, but also covered by Fleetwood Mac in their early days. Here, James shows off his soulful singing, while the track slinks along, fueled by piano, organ and horns, before James enters with a supple solo that actually seems to end too soon.
Despite the title, Miles to Go shows that Colin James has already arrived. —Tony Peters