Colin James,
(WEA, 2000)

Colin James has been Canada's ambassador of blues, swing and good old rock 'n' roll since the '80s. Now, he's back and better than ever, with his trademark catchy rock tunes and a return to his blues-influenced roots. As much as I enjoy some good swing music, I was a disappointed when he moved there from the bluesy rock that made him famous. But there's actually not that much of a difference between the two -- especially for such a gifted guitarist and songwriter. His latest release, the aptly titled Fuse, proves that.

James, who plays lead and rhythm guitar, cowrote most of the songs on the record with Craig Northey, who also contributes rhythm guitar and harmony vocals. The sound is filled out by Pat Steward on drums and percussion and a host of players on horns, percussion, strings and keyboards.

The opener "Hide" is also the first radio single from the record, and it is easy to hear why. It is catchy and loud and easy to sing along to. Never one to hide behind anything, James' clean and crisp vocals, lyrics and guitar playing expose him in "Mystery to Me." It's good to see that that part of his music hasn't changed. His pop sensibility comes to the fore with the infectious energy of "Getting Higher". His tone becomes more tender in the Craig Northey/Jesse Valenzuela song "Something Good," which is definitely one of the highlights on the record.

The just-short-of-screaming vocals in "It Ain't Over Yet" remind me of earlier work like "Just Came Back" and "Voodoo Thing," while "Hate It When I See You Cry," a sweet love song, shows off James' talent as a blues guitarist. Vocals take the spotlight again in "Of All the Things to Throw Away," an aching song with muted guitar.

Throughout the recording, James showcases his versatility as a songwriter and guitarist -- he plays fast and slow, loud and soft, happy and sad, and he pulls together all of his influences into a well-balanced record.

[ by Rachel Jagt ]