Colin James | March 15, 2024 | The Peppermint Club | Beverly Hills, CA – Concert Review

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Review & photos by Jordan West

The Peppermint Club was the scene of a rare SOCAL show by Canadian singer and guitarist Colin James that showcased what an incredible talent he is. He and his backing band, guitarist Chris Caddell, bassist Kenny Neal Jr, and drummer Geoff Hicks, along with special guest, the incredible “Sugarmill Slim” on harmonica, treated us all to an evening that we won’t soon forget. Many of the patrons, long-time fans such as myself, were thrilled to see this band, incredibly popular north of the border, in such an intimate setting.

Colin James has performed for years in many facets. Rock guitarist, blues revivalist, and leader of a terrific, swinging big band, with which he recently performed with in Canada. But tonight, it was all about the blues. “Chicago-Style” blues for the most part. Up tempo, highly charged shuffles had his rhythm section in sync throughout the show. James’ command of the guitar, in particular his slide technique, combines with his versatile voice, which ranges from a high tenor to a growl that perfectly accompanies his instrument and style of material.

“21 albums, and all by the age of 30,” joked James, towards the beginning of the show. He said his new album will be released later on this year. His latest, 2021’s Open Road won a Juno Award, (Canada’s version of a Grammy) for Best Blues Album. He did a few numbers from it, which includes some classic takes on some of the best of Chicago’s blues giants. Otis Rush’s fabulous “It Takes Time” got the place jumping, and had some ladies dancing aggressively on the clubs dancefloor.

The exotically dressed, special guest Sugarmill Slim was such a treat. His harmonica playing is superb, and he can channel all the greats such as Little Walter and Paul Butterfield. He brought new life to Colin James “Just a Little Love” originally released in 2015 and combined with James great slide guitar and sing-along chorus, it brought out smiles from all in attendance. The two of them really shined on a take on Muddy Waters “One More Mile” that was featured on Colin James 2018 Miles to Go release. James and Slim were trading licks for what seemed like an eternity, and obviously were in awe of their respective talents. You could tell by the looks on their faces.  James “Man’s Gotta Be a Stone” a very ZZ Top-style Texas boogie, brought out yet another facet of James playing. I could have listened to that song all night. My feet were tapping throughout, and the crowd as well as the band, seemed to be enjoying every second.

Colin James went back to his 1988 debut LP for a cover of Morgan Davis’ “Why’d You Lie,” a slow blues number that spotlighted not only his lovely white Fender Stratocaster’s clean tone, but his spectacular bluesy crooning. This was also evident during his performance of “That’s Why I’m Crying,” originally done by the great Koko Taylor, which was absolutely breathtaking in its smooth groove. James truly can be spellbinding in his flawless delivery. He never seems to hit a bad note. The assembled crowd roared its approval at the song’s end.

James dipped into his soul-influences in the song “Freedom” that he explained he originally recorded with guitarist Waddy Wachtel and vocalist Mavis Staples, that had a classic Stax soulful and gospel sound that was punctuated by James’ brilliant guitar breaks, and was yet another side of the styles that James possesses. He also played “Protection” from his forthcoming new release, which was written and performed by singer and songwriter Lucinda Williams in 2015. This number is a straight-ahead statement song with a great chorus, and James added the perfect amount of his own flair to it.

The familiar opening riff to the Fleetwood Mac classic “Oh Well” opened up quite a few eyes, and Colin James and his band produced a bang-up version of this seasoned rocker. Second guitarist Chris Caddell and his Fender Stratocaster complimented James’ Gibson Les Paul perfectly, with James making ample use of his wah-wah pedal, his crunchy tone gave this song some added balls.

Another number from Open Road entitled “There’s A Fire” is a classic Colin James song. Very T-Bone Walker in its winding, sleepy blues, accompanied by his pleading vocals just made you close your eyes and magically transform yourself inside a southern blues joint. During this number, James hopped off the stage, and walked around the Peppermint Club floor, like the great Buddy Guy used to do. Naturally, the crowd went wild as James stood face to face with adoring audience.

Yet another highlight of the evening was the instrumental “Speechless,” which was dedicated to the memories of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Healey. James channeled their respective guitar tones with a dreamy, soaring performance that originally appeared on his 1995 Bad Habits release. An emotional song for sure, and it was well received by his loyal fans. Sugarmill Slim then rejoined the band for a smokin’ version of Otis Rush’s “If You Were Mine” that closed the set.

After the band briefly left the stage, Colin James appeared for an encore, donning an acoustic guitar for a touching version of the Van Morrison classic, “Into the Mystic,” a song he recorded on his 2005 album entitled Limelight. It was a lovely performance, and spotlighted yet another side of Colin James many talents, this one as an acoustic pop singer.

James thanked his fans for coming. I can honestly say that he made some new fans this evening. After the show, he told me that he would like to have more of a presence in California, so he’ll be returning again after the release of his new album. I look forward to that and I am so glad that I got a chance to see him in a venue that was so personal.

The staff and especially the security at the Peppermint Club were outstanding and gracious all evening. That is something I have not given props to in quite a while. Performance venues around the world, take note. Treat your customers well.

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