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Colin James takes fans on rousing retro road trip

Blues rocker Colin James took more than 600 eager fans on a rousing retro road trip on Wednesday night at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre.

“We’re going to go back in time . . . you’re about 25 ­— and you’re me,” said the Regina-born James, to cheers from a nearly full-house crowd that had apparently waited too many years to see the Juno Award winner perform live in concert.

Looking trim and boyish at age 48, James walked his wailing guitar down the stairs and into the audience while playing his early hit, Keep on Loving Me Baby.

As his amazing six-piece band created a groovy, Soul Train-like vibe with two saxophones, driving drums and organ-like keyboards, James gave his electric guitar a howling voice and settled momentarily into a fifth-row seat, about halfway through the show.

His performance of the hit with its familiar “whoah, whoah, yeah” chorus, got a massive response and was a memorable highlight.

It wasn’t the only trip back in time, however, as James dabbled time and again with colourful musical accents that brought to mind the 1960s and ’70s.

He performed Freedom with a repeat, echo-back refrain, and Man’s Gotta Be a Stone with tight harmonica and a driving blues beat that could rival ZZ Top’s heavy wall-of-sound. His song Mary Ann featured a quirky, finger-picking guitar melody followed by a laid-back lounge vibe.

Then there were the true retro numbers — James’s deliberately paced, syncopated cover of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy, as well as Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic, and Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well.

James gets credit for putting some of his own spin on these chestnuts — but also delivered straight-up, very recognizable versions of his own hits Voodoo Thing, Why’d You Lie, and Just Came Back (to Say Good-bye).

For course, not every song was a nostalgia trip. He also played plenty of new tunes from his latest album, Fifteen, including Sweet’s Gone Sour, I’m Diggin’, the sultry A Fool for You, Stone Faith and the winning Shed a Little Light, which proved to be an audience favourite.

The Vancouver-based musician, who received incredible support from his gifted band, is known as a guitar wizard. Sure enough, he played the heck out of his string instruments, requiring newly tuned guitars about every song — and even mid-song.

But James’s voice was the biggest surprise. His blues-drenched vocals have gotten stronger with time, allowing him to switch effortlessly from smooth to rasping when needed.

This doesn’t mean James is a smooth talker — in fact, he doesn’t do much small talk. But he did promise to squeeze in as much music as possible during the two-hour performance and was as good as his word.

His electrifying concert proved once again the benefits that can come from no talk/all action.

The show was opened by thoughtful Toronto rocker Liam Titcomb, who won the audience over with his lyric-driven tunes, but could have varied the tempo more during his set. Richer Than We Know, which Titcomb wrote with Colin Linden, does feature some beautiful imagery, though.



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