Album review: Colin James, Bad Habits (1995)

 

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 3, 1995

By Steve Newton

They say that life begins at 40, but for 30-year-old Colin James the Big Three-O might well be the milestone signifying delivery to the good life. With Bad Habits, the fresh-faced rocker has turned into a goatee-sporting practitioner of funky, soulful, seasoned-sounding blues—with just the odd foot-stomping rave-up tossed in for old time’s sake.

James’s more mature approach is made obvious from the get-go: Bad Habits opens with the simmering “Saviour”, a punchy R&B steamer made extra special by the clavinet of Lenny Kravitz and the rapturous vocals of Ry Cooder/Bruce Springsteen sidemen Bobby King and Terry Evans. The funky vibe reaches even more entrancing heights on the next track, “Freedom”, thanks this time to the euphoric stylings of guest crooner Mavis Staples.

Judging by the talent brought in—including former Double Trouble keyboardist Reese Wynans and L.A. session guitarist Waddy Wachtel—no expense was spared in the making of James’s fourth album. It was recorded in the Bahamas with Rolling Stones producer Chris Kimsey, after all.

But Bad Habits is far from a vanity project. While he continues to plow through his share of crusty old standards, James stands apart from such tiresome blues revisionists as George Thorogood by enlivening his chosen material with genuine enthusiasm, youthful energy, and some mighty sharp guitar playing. His searing slide tears a real strip off Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues”, and is equally effective on “Real Stuff”, a radio-ready rocker he cowrote with Daryl Burgess and Colin Linden.

James’s still-blooming talent is particularly evident on the closing instrumental, “Speechless”, a beautifully restrained guitar showcase that leaves you hoping for more.

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