Colin Linden hits the sweet spot on emotionally rich LP
Colin, Dr. Love
By TED DROZDOWSKI
When you’re hearing ‘Desolation Row’ coming out of your stage monitors, sung by the guy who wrote it, it raises the bar in consideration of what you aspire to with your own songs,” Colin Linden tells the Scene. The Nashville-by-way-of-Canada singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer enjoyed that thrilling — and grounding — experience in the summer of 2013, when Bob Dylan drafted him for the lead guitar spot in his band on a string of summer dates.
What Linden aspires to with the songs on his new album and 13th solo effort, Rich in Love, which he celebrates Friday with a show at City Winery, is to hit the spots where humanity is fragile and, in the midst of facing reality at its most frank, also beautiful and triumphant and full of longing. He does that by zeroing in on the brutal and the sweet. At one end there’s “Delia Come for Me,” sung from the viewpoint of an unjustly condemned man. The number is inspired by a folk ballad recorded by Blind Willie McTell and passed along by generations of performers, including Johnny Cash, as well as by the controversial 2011 execution of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia. There’s also “The Hurt,” which casts Etta James and Mohammad Ali as characters, and explores the notion that the truth of a life lies deeper than its narrative might suggest. On the flip side, “Date With the Stars” is a gorgeous midnight revelry — inspired by Linden’s chronic insomnia as well as his love of nature, reverb and stunning melodies played on a chiming guitar. And much of the album expands in that joyful direction.
Linden’s guitars are a big part of his story. For four decades he’s been an expert accompanist and accomplice to such notables as first-generation Delta bluesman Sam Chatmon, folk-rocker Bruce Cockburn, Emmylou Harris, T Bone Burnett and Gregg Allman. He’s also a producer and solo artist, as well as a member of the popular Americana outfit Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, and a producer, player, arranger, songwriter and general music wrangler for ABC’s Nashville. Slide guitar, in particular, is one of Linden’s calling cards, and he’s an expert at using the technique’s voice-like, look-ma-no-frets approach in versatile and creative ways that are on display all over Rich in Love.
As its title implies, the album also celebrates love. Essential to its creation is Linden’s relationship with his wife, the novelist (and his occasional co-writer) Janice Powers. The fabric of the album also, in part, reflects the loss of parents they’ve shared in recent years. And then there’s Linden’s connection with his longtime bandmates and close friends, drummer Gary Craig and bassist Johnny Dymond, who’ll join him onstage Friday. The trio has played on nearly 100 albums together over the past 25-plus years — now soldiering on after the loss of their cohort and keyboardist Richard Bell, who died in 2007. And somewhere at the bottom of it all is the hulking presence of blues giant Howlin’ Wolf, who befriended Linden when he was an 11-year-old fan, thereby setting in motion the Toronto native’s journey through the realm of roots-based American music.
“If I have a goal,” Linden says, “it’s to make those guys like Wolf and Sam Chatmon proud — to bring honor to the ancestors if I can. Time will judge how well I’ve done it, and I’m going to keep trying my best.”
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Listen to Rich In Love here