Warming the Soul – Colin James

Blame it on the sleet outside or the end of a long week, but people were in the mood to hunker down and mellow out this night. This was not a raucous crowd of rowdies, but a sedate group of middle-agers there to listen, to consider, and to absorb. And Mr. James provided the heat of a hot guitar that roasted the ear buds and bathed the soul in tender bluesy warmth. After walking on stage with his band already playing he immediately turned up the heat and left it on high for the entire evening.

After the first few songs, with heads nodding in careful metrical rhythm, James stepped away from the microphone and the physical safety of assorted gear to solo at the exposed edge of the stage. Here is where James really shines. His solos drip with passion and expression. His style isn’t virtuosity run rampant, but tasteful where each note has a place and meaning. And as he eased out of his solos, he appeared surprised by what has just transpired; the look on his face was telling, suggesting that he is too is amazed by what his hands have just created, or by what has possessed them. And as he was impressed, we were in awe.

Jubilee Auditorium, Calgary | November 2, 2012
Photography by: Charles Hope

The venue, a conservative and traditional theatre with organized rows and studious ushers may not have been the best environment for a James’ rhythm and blues adventure, but tonight it seemed the perfect locale, matching the mood of the audience who were calm and attentive. The natural inclination of an r&b/rock audience is to move, to groove to the music, but tonight the grooving was internal and deeply personal.

James mixed older hits with tracks from his latest opus “Fifteen”. One song from that album, “Sweets Gone Sour”, was a perfect example of his maturing songwriting style and provided an opportunity for him to flex his vocal chops. His highly capable band, providing a strong foundation for whichever avenue he ventured down, added colour and nuance, from the crunching Hammond organ to the two baritone saxophones layering the bottom end and adding a velvety touch to the older material.

The show ended on a high with “Voodoo Thing” and “Just Came Back” though the increased energy level from the stage still didn’t get people on their feet. The unified head bobbing grew more pronounced and a few bodies began swaying from side to side, but dancing was not to be seen. A warm sax solo on “Voodoo Thing” added a deeper texture to the piece and moved it out of the pop-rock genre, centering it fully in the r&b canon.

Given that the audience was probably chilled from the weather outside, and their inherent predilection for grooving in place, the evening turned out just fine. What a better way to spend an unusually humid prairie night that sitting deep in your seat and letting the hot embers of Colin James’ rock and blues sear your brain and warm your heart.

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