As the aphorism goes life imitates art and art imitates life. And for an accomplished artist like Colin James, on the occasion of a new chapter in his celebrated Little Big Band series of recordings, the aphorism couldn't be more apt.
On Colin James and The Little Big Band 3 the jump blues and hard r' n' b chestnuts that populate the majority of the album are re-cast in dynamic fashion courtesy of Colin and his exemplary band. Let's not be shy about it - LBB 3 continues its own tradition superbly, and raises the bar in what will be viewed as one of the finest recordings of the year.
By now the basic points in the Colin James resume are well known:
* Saskatchewan born
* First artist signed to the then fledgling Virgin America label
* Well over a million albums sold worldwide
* 6 Juno awards
* 10 albums in nearly 20 years of music making
But the real point to be made today is that Colin is an artist revitalized, an artist who has literally and figuratively found his musical soul. What started on 2005's excellent roots-drenched Limelight is continued on LBB3. It's Colin James the vocalist on display, as much as Colin James guitarist extraordinaire, as our man turns in a bravura singing performance. Hear him meet the challenge of Jackie Wilson's towering "Reet Petite" head on, then contrast it with his take on Solomon Burke's emotive ballad "If You Need Me" and there's no denying Colin's ever increasing interpretative vocal skills.
Talking blues, soul and r'n'b with Colin James is an experience in itself because Colin is not only a gifted artist but a hardcore fan, and a particularly knowledgeable one at that. His personal collection is vast and it informs the process of choosing material for each LBB outing. "A lot of the songs I've chosen for the Little Big Band recordings, I've known since my early teens and feel quite close to them. I always try to write a couple as well. It gives me a great excuse to go and add to the CD collection when researching, and it's also fun to write in the idiom. When we were mixing in Los Angeles I found out Johnny Otis is alive and well living outside of Los Angeles, so we've sent him a copy of "The Night Is Young." I hope he likes it!"
But let's shift the spotlight for a moment to Colin's band, and what a band it is: Rolling Stones' tour keyboardist Chuck Leavell and Stevie Ray Vaughan alumnus Reese Wynans share the ivories. The drummer as always is the lynchpin and on LBB3 it's the madly swinging Bob Ruggiero, whose recent resume includes stints with Van Morrison and Eric Clapton . Bob is complemented by Jeff Sarli on standup bass. Colin's old friends Greg Piccolo and Doug James from Roomful Of Blues anchor a stellar horn section, abetted by Colin's bandleader Steve Hilliam on tenor sax and Terry Townson from Delbert McLinton's band on trumpet. And that's the one and only Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns contributing the trumpet solo that graces Doc Pomus'/Ray Charles' "Lonely Avenue."
Grammy winning vocalist Keb' Mo' delivers a perfect harmony vocal on "That's Where It's At" while Colin Linden, who co-produced LBB3 with Colin James, contributes rhythm guitar.
The relationship between the two Colins is a special one. Lifelong friends' both superb guitarists and blues aficionados, Linden and James are a hand in glove fit. Linden produced the Juno winning 1997 acoustic blues National Steel album and then hooked up again with Colin J for Limelight. A segue to the LBB3 gig was only natural. Linden opines "I've never heard Colin play or sing so amazingly well. I really believe that he's become as great as his heroes, and those guys wore pretty big shoes!"
It's a good story: a young veteran is making some of the best music of his career, having the time of his life doing it and making new fans along the way.
See for yourself when Colin crosses the country in early 2007 on his national theatre tour; in the meantime listen to Colin James and Little Big Band 3 and hear the unrestrained joy that suffuses this most estimable recording.