We associate Colin Linden with the blues, yet bLow is his first electric blues release of the fourteen he’s made as a solo artist over his four-decade career. Linden, of course, has been equally or even more prominent on the roots scene with his band Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, his guitar playing in the films Brother Where Art Thou and Inside Llewyn Davis. There’s a shelf’s worth of work with Bruce Cockburn and touring gigs with Bob Dylan, Greg Allman, Rhiannon Giddens, John Prine, and more. His song “Remedy” for The Band was their biggest post Robbie Robertson incarnation hit. This just scratches the surface. Linden has played on over 500 albums and produced 140, with Keb’ Mo’s 2020 Oklahoma winning a Grammy. Linden has amassed 25 Juno Award nominations and nine wins. He charmed traditional blues lovers several years ago with his Howlin’ Wolf tribute album.
In fact, we can trace Linden’s love for the blues to a meeting in his native Toronto with Howlin’ Wolf as an 11-year-old. At the end of a two-hour conversation, Wolf said “I’m an old man now and won’t be around much longer. It’s up to you to carry it on.” So, these many years later, we find Linden as the first outside artist on his close friend, Lucinda Williams’ label. The title song comes from being stuck in a ramshackle motel after a casino gig somewhere in Oklahoma or Texas as a twister was about to touch down. He was there with his wife, the novelist Janice Powers, who wrote the opening verse – “Got a coin in my pocket heavy and gold/It don’t own me I need to let it go/Cause having is wanting/Desire can make you weep” and plays the raging other worldly B3 left to him by former bandmate and once Band member Richard Bell. His members for this album include lifelong collaborators and fellow Toronto musicians -drummer Gary Craig and bassist John Dymond. As Linden splits his time between Toronto and Nashville, he taps Music City rhythm tandem bassist Dave Jacques and drummer Paul Griffiths for other tracks.
The genesis for six of the tracks were instrumental soundtracks for a television show set on the Texas- Louisiana border. Linden was a main musical contributor for the popular Nashville TV show and has contributed to many scores. This show was set in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and somehow the musical beds led to lyrics. The album kicks off with the Bo Diddley inspired “4 Cars” as Linden wields his famed slide guitar. The heavy stomping “Ain’t No Shame” carries a boogie vibe as well with the guitar sounding like Elmore James on steroids. Those set the stage for the released single, the true story song “Until the Heat Leaves Town,” about a desperate character on the run with little time left. Linden shares the story,
“Larry. Country blues legend. My hero. Playing music fed his soul. Side deals fed his family. He ran afoul of some unsympathetic folks on a deal. He was in need of a place to hide. Me and Dave. Hanging out, playing guitar. A warehouse by the Brooklyn Bridge. Larry showed up one night, breathless and shifty. He stayed a few days, vague on details, one eye on the door. One morning he was gone, like a puff of smoke. I pictured him walking away, dawn climbing up the side of Manhattan Island like a cool breeze.”
Classic blues riffs infuse “Angel Next to Me” while “Boogie Let Me Be” nods to early Sun Records with echoes of John Lee Hooker and Floyd Murphy, guitarist for Junior Parker. “When I Get to Galilee” combines the churning guitar heard on previous tracks with some hints of gospel. The epic “Change Don’t Come Without Pain” veers into Hendrix territory but there’s enough smoldering slow blues commensurate with the title. “Right Show Wrong Foot” picks up some of Louisiana zydeco motif and “Houston” hits squarely on Texas roadhouse blues. The closing “Honey on My Tongue” is more reflective and mournful, in keeping with the pandemic.
It’s been a long time coming but Linden, a prime mover in both roots and blues platforms, unsurprisingly delivers a heartfelt, surging blues album. We would not expect anything less.
- Jim Hynes
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