Colin James; Fifteen (EMI)
Most recording artists don’t include live albums, Best Of collections nor seasonal releases in their catalogue of studio music.
Colin James has titled his new album Fifteen but this number includes his Best Of album, oddly enough, released 15 months ago, as well as a Christmas long player.
Nonetheless, Colin James has proven to be a reliable recording artist over the years where almost all his albums are worth close listening while Fifteen, to my ears, is one of his best efforts to date.
James doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel here with solid blues rock and soulful ballads and the tunes are consistently strong from start to finish with some dazzling originals and some nicely realized covers.
The best of the former, include the rocking swagger of Sweets Gone Sour and the Mellencamp-like I’m Diggin’ where James plays a mean slide guitar.
Fans will want to check out the fine covers of Peter Green & Fleetwood Mac’s classic Oh Well, Robert Palmer’s funky pop of Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley and the heartfelt Jealous Guy based not on John Lennon’s version but rather that of ace soul singer Donny Hathaway (who enjoyed an R&B hit with his take several years ago).
Fifteen also features songs co-written with Ron Sexsmith, highlighted by the romantic Finally Wrote A Song For You, as well as with Tom Wilson of Junkhouse and Craig Northey of The Odds (who also wrote the theme song for the TV show Corner Gas).
Many of these tunes will no doubt be featured in Colin James’ upcoming national tour and with his back catalogue of hits, ought to make for a great gig.
Incidentally, James has never released a live album which is strange given his strong stage performance so I would guess this next tour might just be taped for release.
Bear Creek (Columbia)
This is the fourth album from Washington state based singer/writer Brandi Carlile and it is the album that will solidify her as a fixture on the alt-country and roots Americana circuit.
Carlile graces the cover of the influential Paste magazine this month while NPR has dubbed Bear Creek one of the best albums of the year.
This is also Carlile’s strongest selling album to date although it is faring far better in her native USA than here in Canada where she has a very strong cult following.
Carlile simply has one of the best voices suited for roots music.
Check out her opener Hard Way Home that sounds like a cross between Bonnie Raitt and Alison Krauss while there is a cool sense of American gothic on the country gospel of Raise Hell.
The song I have on heavy repeat is simply titled 100 and features a U2-styled bass line and a smooth rock groove that grabs you by the ears and won’t let go.
Other stand out tracks include The Beatles/George Martin hooks of What Did I Ever Become while there is also an untitled 13th track that features some orchestral folk.
I don’t know if mainstream radio will pick up on this excellent offering but there isn’t a dud on this solid album that is so uniformly strong that no song jumps out ahead of the rest.
Watch for this to be on more than a few Best Of lists at years end.
Paul Simon; Graceland, 25th Anniversary
It has been a quarter of a century since Paul Simon released what is arguably his best album ever and one that more or less helped world beat music blossom on a large commercial scale around the planet.
This 25th year Anniversary Edition is a two-disc affair with a CD and DVD combo.
The audio disc features a re-master of Graceland along with a few outtakes and demo versions that only the most dedicated will really enjoy, including an instrumental version of You Can Call Me Al.
Also on the audio CD Simon reveals that the title song was based on a Johnny Cash chicka-boom Tennessee Two rhythm but done with South African musicians who gave it a special groove.
The DVD is massive at two and a half hours and features interviews with musicians such as Hugh Masekela and Ray Phiri who gave the disc its nifty accordion play, while Harry Belafonte and Whoopi Goldberg both explain how this album really boosted the following for world beat music that carries on today.
Finally there are the hit MTV videos to hits such as The Boy In The Bubble, Diamonds On The Souls Of Her Feet (represented two times with a clip from SNL) and the aforementioned You Can Call Me Al.
A treasure trove for big fans.