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Blues Deluxe: Colin James, Matthew Curry and Johnny Nicholas

Doug Collette By

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The cultural fragmentation of the last two decades or so has resulted in such a multiplicity of niche categories that the blues community only benefits by its long-term standing of loyalty to the genre. Rather than suffer foolish players gladly or thoughtlessly reward the mediocre results of their efforts, these devoted and inveterate music-lovers deeply relish the likes of Johnny Nicholas, Colin James and Matthew Curry, earnest and admirable as they are reaffirming, vicariously, their own reverence for the blues as well as their personal commitment to broaden its stylistic boundaries.

Colin James
Blue Highways
True North Records
2016

Blind Willie McTell, Muddy Waters and Freddie King are only three of the hallowed names in blues history to which Colin James pays rightful (and emotive) tribute on Blue Highways, The Canadian musician performs the enviable and necessary task of reminding blues fans and musiclovers in general of the rich history of the form, quickly acknowledging contemporary heroes as well in the person of early Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green on "Watch Out." James' rendition of Don Nix' "Goin' Down," familiar as a long-term staple of guitar icon Jeff Beck's repertoire is hardly a means of slavish imitation either: as with tracks throughout this whole album, in both electric and acoustic mode, the guitarist/vocalist inhabits these tunes as he (and his well-honed road band) performs them. In doing so, he not only leaves a distinct impression of himself, but also, almost equally importantly, provokes rightful curiosity to seek out the sources of the songs. There are few more admirable ambitions for a contemporary blues player to accomplish.

Matthew Curry
Shine On
Self Produced
2016

From the very first dramatic flourishes of "Blink of an Eye," it's clear Matthew Curry isn't content to simply recycle blues cliches. And if this opening track sounds a bit too reminiscent of vintage Black Crowes (right down to his hoarse vocals), that particular gesture is only reaffirmation of the man's knowledge of his contemporary influences. The roots of "Caroline" are equally obvious-the blues via Great Britain circa 1968 (Humble Pie?)—but the fact is Curry's filling a void if only the one vacated by musicians proud enough of how they cut their teeth to flaunt their lessons with panache. And the man's band plays with equal abandon here, in particular drummer Francis Valentino and keyboardist Mark Masefield, even during the comparatively subdued likes of the soulful title track. "Electric Religion" indeed: Curry's guitar playing is only the most fiery aspect of a number of such attributes on this six-cut EP.

Johnny Nicholas
Fresh Air
Self Produced
2016

It's no small compliment or accomplishment to recognize that, even more than the other two albums---the music on Fresh Air sounds like it's coming straight from the heart of the artist. But then Johnny Nicholas, once and future (?) member of Asleep At The Wheel and a man who's shared stages with the likes of B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf, has a wealth of experience to draw upon. It's no surprise his singing and playing sounds as effortless as it does. But that in itself would not mean as much as it does if Nicholas didn't share that sensation with his accompanists her: Cindy Cashdollar's guitar work, in particular her lap steel stylings, are only the most obvious example. There's also a spontaneous atmosphere within these recordings that renders this album's title particularly appropriate, especially as it lends a somewhat breezy air to the proceedings, even when the song in question, say "Blues Time," sounds like a vivid excerpt from Johnny Nicholas' diary. His stories are worth hearing in and of themselves, but with the other musicians so fully involved, a well-developed dialogue emerges, making the music all that much more engrossing.

Tracks and Personnel

Blue Highways

Tracks: Boogie Funk; Watch Out; Big Road Blues; Bad Bad Whiskey; Going Down; Gypsy Woman; Goin' Away; Lonesome; Hoodoo Man Blues; Riding In The Moonlight / Mr. Luck; Don't Miss You Water; Ain't Long For Day; Last Fair Deal.

Personnel: Colin James: guitar, vocals; Jesse O'Brien: piano: Craig Northey: rhythm guitar; Steve Pelletier: bass; Geoff Hicks: drums.

Shine On

Tracks: Blink of an Eye; Caroline; Shine On; Electric Religion; Matter of Time; Draw the Line.

Personnel: Matthew Curry: guitar, vocals; Mark Masefield: keyboards; Tim Brickner: bass; Matt Shaw: bass; Francis Valentino: drums, percussion, vocals; Alexis Saski: vocals.

Fresh Air

Tracks: Moonlight Train; Kid Man Blues; Blues Time; Red Light; Sweet Katrina; Play Me (Like You Play Your Guitar); How Do You Follow A Broken Heart; Bayou Blues; Roll on Mississippi; Backdoor Man; Wake Up Bobby; Workin' In the Garden; Fresh Air.

Personnel: Johnny Nicholas: guitar, harmonica, piano, vocals; Scrappy Jud Newcombe: guitar; mandocello, mandolin, vocals; Cindy Cashdollar: guitar; lap steel guitar; Red Young: Hammond B3 organ; David Boyle: Hammond B3 organ; Trevor Nealon: Hammond B3 Organ; Steve Riley: button accordion; David Greely: fiddle; Bruce Hughes: bass, percussion, vocals; John Chipman drums, percussion, vocals.

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