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12.27.2002

The Colorblind James Experience

I drove three hundred and fifty miles today, from Polish Christmas in Maine to American New Year in Connecticut, and a good hundred of those miles were made sweeter by the Colorblind James Experience. I am at a loss to describe the band in a way that would do it justice – it is a kind of motown jazz sextet by way of circus sideshow – but I can guarantee that you've not heard anything like it. If you think of Edward Gorey – the way his illustrated stories are meticulously and ornately done, while at the same time being a parody of themselves, and so deadpan that you can't even be sure they're a put-on – that's the CBJE in a nutshell. Except, they sound completely different.

I first heard this band's music from a talented singer friend in England, who had acquired a little four-song album from a friend of a friend, and knew nothing about the group besides their name. Now we have the Internet, and of course the band turns out to have an online website. On my first visit there I learned that the group was a Rochester institution for many years, and that Colorblind James ( Chuck Cuminale ) was a much-beloved man who died of a heart attack in 2001, too young, at the age of 49.

One of the posters at Chuck's tribute site says of him: “you can hear the type of person Chuck was through the songs: kind, sweet,low-key, articulate, intelligent, bohemian, wacky and fiercely dedicated to his craft. I am convinced that he was one of the great 'lost' musicians of our generation.” It's clear from the comments on that site that his life extended far beyond his considerable talent for music – he devoted much of his time to counseling young people, and leaves behind three children of his own.

The very first song I heard from the CBJE was "A Different Bob" – my friend sang it to me, with guitar, and I was hooked. You can hear some snippets of it and other songs from the band's own website. Better yet, go and buy their whole Greatest HIts album online – it's a purchase you won't regret. Even if the whole rest of the album is not your cup of tea, the last track will make you happy. It should have been a hit.

God keep you, Colorblind James, wherever you are.

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