Bluesfest’s Blacksheep stage was the place to be Saturday night as blues-rock guitar virtuoso Steve Hill warmed up the crowd with his one-man act of bombastic rock-heavy blues. He more than set the stage for headliner, Colin James, who gave his friend Hill a tip of the hat for his performance.
Armed with an arsenal of drums, bass, keys, sax, two guitarists, and a first-time appearance by Rhaoul Bhaneja on harmonica, Colin James took us through the archives of a staggering 19-album musical career that has spanned over 30 years. His upcoming album, Miles To Go, serves as the second helping of personally inspired classic blues covers as on previous album, Blue Highways (2016). From these, he shared Peter Green’s 12-bar goodness of “Watch Out”, and later a rendition of James Cotton’s “One More Mile” that cooked in an all-out heated jam exchange. “I was about 16 when I saw James Cotton at the Winnipeg Folk Festival”, James shared with the audience, “and it set me in my direction.”
“Right now, we’re gonna go back to 1988!” yelled James, and broke out with “Five Long Years”, a hit from his self-titled debut album, which had the crowd singing with him all the way. Others from that album included the fiery, “Voodoo Thing”, and smouldering blues ballad, “Why’d You Lie”, riddled with note bending decadence. At 53, he still exhibits his spunky stage charisma, boyish good looks, and his vibrant voice remains untouched by time. I also noticed among the many guitar changes, a sporty red Gibson Memphis ‘63 ES-335 re-issue, a guitar he had when he was 18 and decided to treat himself to recently.
Another set favourite, the gospel-toned “Freedom”, featured some great give-and-take singing exchanges by James and guitarist Chris Caddell, who also showed off some of his soloing skills. Similar tones in a slow-burning William Bell classic, “Don’t Miss Your Water”, showcased James’ soulfully bright balladeer vocals I love so much. More instantly recognizable hits followed with rock heavy “Just Came Back”, and the vibrant jumpin’ blues tune, “Keep On Loving Me Baby”, my personal favourite. The band went out full-tilt for the final time and left the audience begging for more, but to no avail, as time unfortunately ran out. Colin James closed out a simply amazing night of musical acts on the Blacksheep stage that fed the hungriest of rocking blues appetites.
RBC Bluesfest runs from July 5–15, 2018 at LeBreton Flats. Visit ottawabluesfest.com for the lineup and schedule. Keep checking back for more of Apt613’s Bluesfest coverage and follow us on Instagram for the latest photos.