Paul James is one of the finest blues talents in Canada. His history in the music business dates back decades - from the age of 14, when he sat in with folk and blues "greats" in the coffeehouse district of Yorkville, in Toronto, Canada. Paul’s had the pleasure of backing Bo Diddley for almost two decades from the early 70s right up to the late 90s. He’s performed on stage recently with Bob Dylan in a few venues in Canada and the U.S.A., including Toronto’s ACC that seats over 20,000 music fans. "Mr. Bojangles" Dylan has even attended Paul’s gigs. Likewise, Paul’s attended a rare nightclub concert of Dylan’s recently, at Toronto’s Kool Haus, where the Rolling Stones performed in 1993 when the venue was known as R.P.M. (This writer attended that memorable Stones at R.P.M. concert in 1993! So did Dan Aykroyd, who made a big splash when he pulled up in the R.P.M. parking lot on his motorcycle, in front of the crowd waiting to get into the show.)
Paul’s most recent CD release - the first in over a decade - La Vie en Bleu, although not a live recording, has truly captured the energy and feel of a wildly live Paul James Band performance. In concert Paul wanders through the audience, guitar in hand, and sometimes behind his neck; serenading the crowd with his upbeat brand of blues and R&B.
La Vie en Bleu begins with a rousing version of Leiber & Stoller’s "The Last Clean Shirt." This tune’s got all the inviting energy that’s needed to kick start your day ... or evening as the case may be! Richard Berry’s 60s classic "Louie, Louie" is given new life in Paul’s very able musical hands ... and is hard-drivin’ all the way! So is Bob Dylan’s rousing and deeply moving "Like a Rolling Stone," which has been a favorite of this writer’s that Paul performs - ever since the first time I saw him play it with his band Lick ‘n’ Stick at Toronto’s "Yonge St. Station" back in 1973 or 1974.
Paul’s version of Chuck Berry’s "Carol" is guaranteed to get the dance floor movin’ ‘n’ groovin’ if nothing else will. More powerful than a triple of Jack Daniels!!!
These winners are followed by Paul’s original "Red Hot Mama" .. a medium tempo catchy ditty that’s got a beat that’s "born to please" as the song goes. Paul’s slide playing on this one seems to sing like it’s alive! "Take It Easy" follows, with lyrics like "Hurry and worry, kills the man" - a meditative bit of insight by "one who knows." Paul’s wa-wa is killer in this captivating James original!
One of Paul’s strong points is his mouth-watering slide guitar playing. In concert he’s made use of anything handy including beer bottles, mic stands etc. to get some of the most enchanting and mesmerizing slide that his National Steel acoustic and red hollow-body electric Guild can deliver. This writer would wager it’s some of the best slide that could be heard anywhere - including along the banks of the mighty Mississippi - the real birth place of the blues - even though Chicago has claimed that ‘name to fame’ many times... and with some justification.
Nowhere is Paul’s amazingly entertaining (and absolutely ingenious) talent on slide guitar more evident than in Willie Dixon’s classic blues composition, "Red Rooster." Paul’s invigorating version of this much-loved blues classic, could get zombies out to pick cotton, where there ain’t no cotton to pick!
Paul’s acoustic virtuosity is heard and enjoyed to its utmost on a very roots-based James original, "Hey Now, Rosie." This tune is much in the style and delivery of Hambone Willie Newbern’s "Rollin’ and Tumblin’" - but performed in Paul’s own unique way. ** (Newbern’s "Rollin’ .... " riffs inspired two of Robert Johnson’s immortal blues classics -- "If I had Possession Over Judgement Day" and "Travelling Riverside Blues." Both these songs make use of Hambone Willie’s "Rollin’ and Tumblin’" riff. Muddy Waters uses this same riff on his "Diving Duck Blues"; as does Howling Wolf on his "Meet Me In the Bottom"). I feel you may agree after hearing Paul’s "Hey Now, Rosie" rendition, that what’s good enough for blues legends like Waters and Wolf, is good enough for present day blues legend Paul James.
Paul follows this early, energized blues offering with Fleecie Moore’s upbeat "Caladonia," that’s influenced by the version Louis Jordan made into a hit. There’s some incredibly melodic lead guitar riffs in this tune, courtesy of Paul’s able fingers, as well as some very appetizing rhythm guitar. Sarah McElcheran’s trumpet and Jim Bish’s sax playing shine through too, in this well-loved classic.
Things slow down a bit, with a relaxed, heartfelt version of ‘Mr. Bojangles’ Dylan’s "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue." Gary Gray’s inventive piano riffs, as well as Brian Kipping’s melodic bass lines and Adrian Vecchiola’s drums and percussion add beautiful harmony and depth to Paul’s interpretive vocals and haunting harp playing. The pace picks up considerably with Paul’s quintessential version of Van Morrison’s "G.L.O.R.I.A."
Paul’s rendition of Dylan’s "Highway 61 Revisited" definitely ranks right up there with versions I’ve heard from blues guitar icons like Johnny Winter and Joe Walsh. Vecchiola’s fetching talent on the skins, along with Kipping’s thumpin’ ‘n’ pumpin’ bass lines and Gray’s beautiful piano playing, really gets this song going full blast! So do Paul’s incredible vocals and mesmerizing slide guitar talent. I know this isn’t a live version, but the energy and clarity it possesses could definitely fool many into thinking it is!
Paul plays a captivating harp intro to the Rolling Stones’ classic "Sweet Virginia." This country/blues/rock ditty features Gray’s dancing fingers tinkling the ivories, along with Kipping’s rousing bass lines and Vecchiola’s engrossing drumming - all adding much to Paul’s strong vocals and guitar playing. This song is aptly followed by Paul’s original "Gotta Gimme Some Of It"; featuring more of Paul’s superb slide guitar playing - in fact a beautiful slide-‘fest’ of Paul’s outstanding talent on the six-string! It also features the fine talents of Alec Fraser on bass and background vocals. (In addition to playing bass on this track, Fraser also engineered this CD masterpiece at his Juno/Maple Blues Award-winning Liquid Studio in Toronto).
The finale to this out-of-this-world entertaining Paul James CD, La Vie en Bleu is the Stones’ consistently satisfying, "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction." This writer has seen the Stones perform this tune on many occasions - the most recent being only 20 people from the stage at Sarstock in Toronto July 30, 2003, along with 490,000 other Stones/music fans. Even with having all this live Stones exposure, I have to honestly admit that Paul’s version of "Satisfaction" is without a doubt just as good in every way as the version the Stones perform themselves - only different! But, not that different - just unique to the true star quality James brings forth from his soul and heart into this and every tune on this 15-song/hour-long encapsulation of the essence of a true blues/R&B/rock ‘n’ roll entertainer that Paul James definitely is!
The Paul James Band has succeeded in every way in coming up with the best rock ‘n’ roll/R&B/blues to entertain us with in La Vie en Bleu. This very fine and worthwhile CD is a true masterpiece of musical entertainment at its very best - and as such, is a worthy and necessary addition to any music lover’s collection. I sincerely give it my highest recommendation!!! This is most definitely a five-star CD if I’ve ever heard one! It’s one of this writer’s favorite CD’s to listen to ... I hope you make it yours, too!
Postscript: In the liner notes Paul James gives special thanks to long-time musicians and friends whom he's performed with: John Hammond; Bo Diddley; Willie Deville and Bob Dylan.